Workers, students stage die-in protest supporting COVID-19 health and safety demands

Members+of+the+NU+community+participate+in+a+die-in+protest+on+Sheridan+Road%2C+by+Deering+Meadow.

Isabelle Sarraf/Daily Senior Staffer

Members of the NU community participate in a die-in protest on Sheridan Road, by Deering Meadow.

Isabelle Sarraf, Campus Editor

Northwestern dining and hospitality workers and student allies hosted a die-in Wednesday afternoon to call attention to recent demands for COVID-19 health and safety protections.

Participants lay on Sheridan Road for seven minutes and 28 seconds, one second for each person and family that depends on Compass Group, NU’s food service provider, to ensure health and safety on the job. Across the street were dozens of protestors, shouting “SALUD!” in response to chants demanding better treatment for campus employees.

“We are here for the thousands of workers in our nation who have lost their lives to COVID-19,” a chant leader said to the crowd. “What’s at stake is our lives.”

According to a news release from UNITE HERE Local 1, the union representing subcontracted dining hall and hospitality workers at NU, 81 percent of these workers are Black or Latinx — communities which have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis in Evanston, Chicago and nationwide.

The union’s demands for these subcontracted workers include training, quarantine pay, hazard pay, a moratorium on all discipline for COVID-19-related absences, and health insurance for laid-off workers.

Noah Carson-Nelson, lead research analyst for the union, said Compass recently extended health insurance contributions for laid-off workers for the month of October after the union delivered a petition to the company. However, they said the union has still not heard a response from the University about the petition’s demands.

In an email to The Daily, a Compass spokesperson said the union’s proposal seeks a 41 percent jump in compensation in the first year, which he said would increase the cost of each meal plan by about $1,200 per year.

Compass has taken “every possible step” to assist its associates impacted by the pandemic, the spokesperson said, including providing them with free groceries and counseling on how to file for unemployment. He said Compass had asked the union to hold a bargaining session Wednesday.

“Unfortunately, the union seems more interested in creating media events than in creating a good, workable contract for its members,” the spokesperson said.

Yiraida Berrios, a cashier in Elder dining hall, was laid off from her job back in March when the University shut down due to coronavirus concerns. She said she was originally supposed to go back to work this fall, but since then, the University has closed Elder due to fewer students living on campus than planned.

Now, Berrios — living paycheck to paycheck — is facing the expiration of her health insurance. She said she was rushing to take her daughter to necessary doctor appointments now, “before it’s too late.”

“I’ve been here for 10 years, I love my job,” Berrios said. “When you build a house, you’ve got to build it on concrete. I feel like I’ve built my house in sand, and the water just came and took it.”

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Related Stories:
Workers and student allies deliver petition to Northwestern administrators calling for commitment to dining worker health and safety protections
Northwestern dining workers denied extension on health insurance, COVID-19 safety protections amid mass layoffs
Compass Group lays off 230 NU dining workers

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