As Greek houses close, workers face job insecurity


Daily file photo by Colin Boyle

Northwestern’s sorority quad. Delegates from Panhellenic Association chapters recently voted to cancel 2020-21 formal recruitment.

Emma Yarger, Reporter

As campus housing shuts down, an entire network of workers face job insecurity, President of Campus Cooks Bill Reeder (Weinberg ‘95) said.

Campus Cooks provides food service to many of Northwestern’s Greek houses and contracts chefs for the University’s academic year. Reeder said they also work with produce providers, delivery drivers and others to provide food for students living in Greek housing.

“COVID has been hard on us all and we’re no different,” Reeder said. “We want to continue to employ people. Unfortunately if numbers drop, or they don’t open the doors, we can’t perform our service.”

When NU announced the closure of its on-campus housing on Aug. 28, Reeder said he was forced to make the difficult decision on not hiring back much of his seasonal staff. Although these workers are not hired by the University directly, they are affected by the decisions administrators make.

Susan Zeitz, director of human resources for Campus Cooks, said workers are hired from September to June each year. She said some workers have other employment during the summer and others choose to take time off until the next school year.

After campus shut down in March and students went home for the spring, Zeitz said workers were laid off with hopes of rehiring them in September — now she said they have hopes of rehiring them in January.

Dequandre Williams, a former chef in the Delta Zeta house, said he felt his experience with Campus Cooks was “nurturing and engaging” and he hopes to work for them again in the future.

“It was really really great. The girls were awesome, I really felt local and home,” Williams said.

During this time Williams is focusing on his own business venture, Signature Plates, which offers catering as well as cooking classes. He said he hopes to rejoin Campus Cooks when they are able to hire chefs again.

Quadrangles Co-president Richard Lies said many Greek houses contract with the company but not all receive their food services from Campus Cooks.

Lies also works for the house corporation which represents Sigma Alpha Epsilon and explained that some chapters choose to hire their own staff instead of contracting through another agency.

However, since Greek houses are closed, it doesn’t matter whether the house corporations contract with Campus Cooks or directly hire their cooks — food services workers are out of jobs and subsequently not receiving benefits.

Zeitz said Campus Cooks employees are covered for health, vision and dental insurance while they are contracted but don’t have insurance during the summer. Now that workers are unemployed due to the pandemic, they are not insured for much more time than usual.

Reeder said he can’t predict what will happen in the coming months but is hopeful for the possibility to restart operations in January.

“We’re excited to have the opportunity for Northwestern to come back but we don’t know at what capacity students will return,” Reeder said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @emmayarger

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