Roughly 70 workers march amid concerns about food provider change


Brian Meng/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern’s Sodexo and Aramark employees march Friday to present a petition asking the companies to help with the transition to Compass Group North America. The demonstrators raised concerns about possible drug tests, background checks and participation in the E-verify program.

Alan Perez, Assistant Campus Editor

Roughly 70 of Northwestern’s food workers marched Friday to present their current employers a petition asking for support during the transition process to a new company.

The group raised concerns about the change from Sodexo and Aramark to Compass Group North America, including the transfer of paperwork and the vulnerability of long-held posts. Aramark employs food service workers in the Kellogg School of Management Global Hub while Sodexo employs most other workers on the Evanston and Chicago campuses.

Demonstrators expressed a desire for a seamless transition, and it was not immediately clear what Compass will require of current workers during it.

“We just want everybody to stick together,” said Melvin Davis, who works in Sargent Hall. “We’re here as a family. We would like to keep our family together.”

Jon Yates, a University spokesman, told The Daily in an email last week that Compass will ask all current workers to join the company with the same pay, benefits and seniority, though he did not specify whether that is a requirement in the company’s contract with NU.

The workers’ petition asks Sodexo and Aramark to transfer I-9 employee eligibility verification forms to Compass, and for Compass to accept those forms without requiring new paperwork.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure there’s a smooth transition between Aramark and the new company,” Scott Hastings, Aramark general manager for operations at the Kellogg School of Management told The Daily after speaking briefly with the demonstrators. “That is absolutely my commitment.”

The petition also asks Compass not to participate in background checks, drug tests and the federal E-verify program — which checks if employees are eligible to work in the U.S. — for existing employees.

Participation in the E-verify program could threaten the jobs of workers who are undocumented. The University does not reveal if or how many undocumented workers are at NU.

Also threatening to workers is uncertainty over whether Compass will take over the contract with UNITE HERE Local 1, the union that represents workers. Compass has not publicly announced whether it will adopt or honor that contract. Yates told The Daily in a Monday email that Compass is currently in negotiations with the union.

“The process that Compass and the union are going through is typical when transitioning an account, and is expected to be resolved in the coming weeks,” Yates said.

On Friday, Sodexo employees gathered in Norris University Center before heading to the Global Hub, where they met up with Aramark employees prior to handing the petition to a Sodexo mid-level manager. Sodexo’s district and general managers were not present, and it was not immediately clear if the petition has been presented to Compass.

Throughout the march, the workers chanted “Sí se puede,” a political chant that originated in the 1970s during the farm workers movement. After the event, workers expressed confidence that their wishes would be honored.

Elizabeth Arreguin, a Sodexo employee in Allison Hall, said she and many others don’t want to move dining halls after the transition.

“We want to stay the same and to keep our job … because we have been working for 30, 15, 20, a lot of years,” Arreguin told The Daily in Spanish. “We know the work, that’s why we want to stay. I want to stay because I’ve worked (in Allison) for 17 years. And the truth is I’m not ready for another job.”

This story was updated Monday at 8:28 p.m. with additional comment from University spokesman Jon Yates.

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