Letter to the Editor: Administrators just saying they care about service workers is not enough

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Students Organizing for Labor Rights (SOLR) recently petitioned Northwestern President Morton Schapiro to take accountability for ongoing labor abuses perpetrated by campus food service provider Compass Group. Despite university administrators and Compass representatives assuring us that they consider workers family, Compass management has proceeded to violate and disrespect them. Employees have shared with us their experiences of (among numerous egregious labor abuses) verbal abuse, overwork, and wage theft — all violations of the contract between Compass and UNITE HERE Local 1, their labor union.

In our petition to Schapiro and Vice President of Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin, signed by nearly 700 community members, we comprehensively detail these concerns. However, on behalf of Schapiro, Telles-Irvin responded with cold dismissal. We feel it necessary to explain the many faults in the response from administration. Further, we call on Telles-Irvin and Schapiro to back up their alleged care for campus service workers’ wellbeing with concrete action.

In an email, Telles-Irvin dismissed SOLR’s demands by pointing to UNITE HERE Local 1, stating, “our understanding is that this mechanism is serving the associates, and issues have been addressed to (their satisfaction).” This “understanding” blatantly ignores the information presented in our petition, which she ostensibly read, and completely contradicts the experiences of the workers with whom we have maintained consistent communication.

Telles-Irvin and Schapiro’s knowledge regarding working conditions on campus seems to come from Compass representatives rather than the voices of workers themselves. Compass Group, as a for-profit institution, has an interest in concealing its labor abuses. It is irresponsible to dismiss employees’ accounts in favor of Compass’s.

We recognize that the exploitative working environments Compass sustains for its workers on campus can be found for workers across the food system and in the sourcing of our food from farms to factories to prisons. We remain committed to broad-based solidarity with all who are impacted by Compass’s unethical practices in our long-term work.

Through her email and actions, Telles-Irvin not only denies the presence of labor abuses, but also suggests future problems should be resolved through a formal grievance process, which cannot work without Compass’s cooperation. The fifth demand in our petition specifically addresses barriers Compass has imposed to this process. Workers have told us that they have been met with disbelief from Compass Human Resources and punishment from management upon filing grievances. This indicates a dysfunctional resolution process that hinders workers from resolving their concerns.

To our community, we pose the following questions: Are you proud that your tuition dollars contribute to Compass’s exploitation of members of our campus community who constantly show us tremendous care, showing up day after day to provide us with quality service? Are you content with being ignored even when you are united in anger? Are you comfortable remaining idle as the president of our university facilitates and incentivizes this violence? And to the administration: If it’s true that you care, why don’t you show us through concrete action to address our concerns?

Students Organizing for Labor Rights
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