Unite Here Local 1 holds virtual rally for NU food and service workers

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UNITE HERE Local 1 hosted a virtual rally to call on the University to pay subcontracted workers.

Yunkyo Kim, Reporter

UNITE HERE Local 1 hosted a virtual rally through their social media platform Tuesday urging Northwestern to pay subcontracted employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The sole union representing Northwestern’s dining and service workers circulated a petition earlier this month calling on the University to pay dining workers. It has since gotten more than 1,800 signatures, according to organizers.

Following the petition, Craig Johnson, senior vice president for business and finance, announced in a March 30 email that the University will partner with Compass Group to provide pay and benefits to food service workers. However, this does not include subcontracted service workers.

Many of the subcontracted workers with Compass Group “struggled to make ends meet” even when circumstances were good, Dan Abraham, UNITE HERE Local 1 organizing director said in the live-streamed rally. Because Northwestern has ceased all nonessential on-site operations, these employees have been laid off.

“Northwestern seems to have forgotten the hundreds of subcontracted service workers, most of whom work for Compass Group, that are critical to the day-to-day operations of this University,” Abraham said. “The people who feed and house Northwestern University’s students and guests are an important part of the diverse community.”

Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Chicago have all announced they will compensate their subcontracted service workers, Abraham noted.

Hugo Lemus, a Northwestern cook, said he has worked at Northwestern for 16 years. Lemus said he signed up for unemployment two weeks ago and hasn’t received a response since.

“I have coworkers call me and ask me if the company is going to pay us,” he said. “They are also very concerned about how they’re going to pay their bills, how they’re going to pay their rent, how they’re going to buy food.”

Lemus added that some of his colleagues cannot qualify for unemployment because they have not reached the minimum number of months of work to file.

Yiraida Berrios, a cashier, said she has been out of work since March 12. Because her daughter is home due to school closure, she said she has to provide for her on top of trying to pay bills.

“It’s hard to explain to her what is going on,” Berrios said. “I still have to provide for her and not having a paycheck coming in weekly is really hard.”

Berrios said she lives paycheck-to-paycheck, and so it is vital Northwestern pays subcontracted employees.

Rachel Muir, a member of Students Organizing for Labor Rights, said in the livestream the student group raised around $20,000 to support workers.

Even though they considered the recent announcement a win, Muir added the Northwestern community must keep supporting service workers.

“I want to help workers because they’re some of the only people on this campus who come from backgrounds like mine,” Muir said. “And even if this isn’t true for you, we as students have an ethical responsibility to leverage our power and position in the University to care for them as they have cared for us.”

The workers who spoke during the livestream emphasized even though their work stopped, their lives and those of their family members have not.

Bernard Sabal, a food service employee who has cooked at the Global Hub for the past six years, said a full paycheck was essential during the pandemic.

“Some of us have kids, some of us have other family members that we have to provide for and unemployment alone is just not enough,” Sabal said.

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