SOLR marches with Compass workers and Local 1, calls for fair wages and COVID-19 concessions

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Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer

Compass Group workers and their families protested alongside SOLR members in a Memorial Day demonstration.

Nick Francis and Ilana Arougheti

Students Organizing for Labor Rights marched alongside Compass Group workers and their union representative organization UNITE HERE Local 1 during a Memorial Day rally calling for expanded workers’ rights.

Around 100 people gathered at Weber Arch in two separate marches at 12 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. They picketed as passersby joined and the crowd grew. 

During the noon action, UNITE HERE Local 1 followed the picketing by leading marchers around Allison Dining Hall. The second march weaved through campus, passing Norris University Center and culminating near the Kellogg Global Hub. 

One of protesters’ main demands was to raise University wages to a minimum of $19.88 per hour, the living wage for campus employees according to the coalition. Another central ask was guaranteed access to weekly onsite COVID-19 testing — which workers said was not provided by Compass even after confirmed community exposure to the virus. 

“We are here for a living wage campaign that we’ve been working on,” Melvin Davis, who works at Sargent Dining Hall, said. “The workers here are very underpaid.”

Davis has been working at Northwestern for 14 years, and he said he makes $14.75 per hour. He said he supports a family of four, and does not know when his next raise will be.

A man looking into a camera. He is wearing a grey smock and is holding a circular white sign reading “Unite Here!”
Melvin Davis has been working for the University for over a decade. He said he makes under $15 per hour. (Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer)

“We all struggle with the same thing. We all go through some problems,” he said. “But right here, this is family, and we stick together.”

As the protest moved through campus, UNITE HERE Local 1 organizers led chants of “Up up with the union/Down down with the Compass” and “Compass is cheap/Cheap and mean.” Chants were led in both English and Spanish. A common refrain was “¡Si, se puede!”, a United Farm Workers of America motto that has been used by many activist groups since it was coined by UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta. 

Medill sophomore Julia Mkrtychian attended the protest on behalf of SOLR. She and another SOLR member carried a banner calling for the abolition of University Police, University President Morton Schapiro’s resignation and other abolitionist calls. 

Veronica Reyes, who has worked at Northwestern dining halls since 2010, said she and her fellow dining hall workers are in their second year of trying to negotiate a contract with Compass. 

A woman wearing a white shirt looking straight into the camera. Behind her are buildings and a body of water.
Veronica Reyes is putting two children through college. She said her salary under Compass is barely enough to make ends meet. (Nick Francis/Daily Senior Staffer)

“We’re marching here fighting for a living wage,” Reyes said. “It’s hard to raise a family with this little money.”

Reyes said it is difficult to put her two children through college at her current salary of $14.05 an hour.

Though Compass has been unresponsive to negotiations, Reyes said she feels supported by her co-workers, many of whom also attended the march, and by the Northwestern students who she sees at Allison Dining Hall every day. 

“They are always here behind us, helping us, supporting us,” she said.

Email: [email protected], [email protected] 

Twitter: @nick24francis, @ilana_arougheti

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