Letter to the Editor: Transition to Compass Group raises concern from students, instills fear in workers

Northwestern recently signed a contract solidifying a shift to Compass Group North American as our sole food vendor. Though this decision may mean little to most students, campus service workers, whose livelihoods hang in the balance of this new contract, are anxious following this decision. The University promised that 100 percent of hourly-wage food service workers will be able to maintain employment at their current positions with pay, benefits and seniority. However, these workers’ continued employment is contingent on a successful reapplication process that includes redundant background checks and drug testing.

The holes in the University’s guarantee are too glaring to ignore. Instead of taking simple action to demand a transfer of existing documentation from the previous food service providers to Compass, NU has enabled fear to spread across campus workplaces. The University’s empty assurances do nothing to mitigate this looming threat. What’s more, they represent a patronizing stand-in for concrete action.

Administrators’ failures to adequately respond to widespread fears of campus food service workers is unacceptable. These workers comprise an essential and beloved part of the NU community — their faithful attendance to the needs of students and faculty alike keeps our campus running day in and day out. What’s more, their friendship is a crucial factor that can help ensure many students of color feel welcome at this primarily white institution. Our friends should not be subjected to the uncertainty and anxiety provoked by the lack of transparency surrounding this new contract.

Following a faculty member’s letter in The Daily on this issue, we offer our perspective as students who have been following this process closely. We write on behalf of Students Organizing for Labor Rights, an unofficial campus group currently waging a campaign to ensure that the needs of service workers are met as NU begins this transition. We have been meeting and working closely with campus service workers throughout this process to understand how they are experiencing this transition and tailor our actions to their specific grievances.

We have also been speaking with union representatives and faculty members to seek input and support. So far, we have circulated a petition addressing the concerns of food service workers which has garnered over 1,000 signatures, met with administrators to air these concerns and seek more information about the University’s transition process, and engaged in dialogue with representatives from Compass to the same ends.

Our hope is that NU will demand for the transfer of all workers’ necessary background information directly from their previous employers to Compass, so that no worker has to complete the reapplication process. Furthermore, we demand the University address and end its use of E-Verify, an arbitrary and fear-inducing program.

The mistreatment of campus service workers throughout this transition process reflects Northwestern’s deprioritization of workers’ needs and wellbeing in the name of service to its student body. As students, we must utilize our privileged position in relation to the administration to support and act in solidarity with our friends in campus food services.

We call on all fellow students to learn more about this issue and join our campaign to ensure the job safety of our campus service workers. Above all, students, faculty and administration can no longer claim our service workers as family only when it is convenient. The University must back up such feel-good rhetoric with policy.

Natalie Vega, Weinberg junior
Allyson Bondy, Bienen and Weinberg sophomore