Students urge the University to hire additional dining staff


Seeger Gray/The Daily Northwestern

Allison Dining Hall. SOLR cites long lines at dining halls, Norris University Center and Fran’s Cafe as evidence of understaffing.

Hannah Feuer, Senior Staffer

Students Organizing for Labor Rights is urging Northwestern to hire more dining workers, citing long lines at dining halls, Norris University Center and Fran’s Cafe as evidence of understaffing. 

Dining workers ratified a new contract with Compass Group, the University’s food service provider, about two months ago, meeting most of their demands. The new contract, which workers ratified Oct. 18, includes provisions that raised the minimum hourly wage to $19.88 and permanently extended health insurance benefits to all workers. 

Now, in a guide to supporting dining workers, students involved with SOLR argue that because the new contract raised wages, Compass might lay off already understaffed workers to cut costs. 

Compass is actively recruiting and hiring for several positions on campus, Compass Group District Marketing Manager Sophia Bamiatzis said in an email to The Daily. The company has 20 job openings at NU listed on its website, including for food service workers, cooks and bussers. 

Veronica Reyes, a cashier at Foster-Walker Complex, said in October the new contract raised her wage from $14.05 per hour to $19.88. She added the money will help her pay for her son’s college tuition.

“Now that these jobs pay much better, we hope that Compass will fill all of their open positions so that we can better serve our students,” Reyes said in a news release. 

Workers have dealt with cycles of layoffs since the pandemic began. When campus shut down in March 2020, the University temporarily laid off 320 subcontracted workers without pay, according to UNITE HERE Local 1, the union representing NU’s subcontracted service workers. Compass permanently laid off 229 of those employees that July. Last January, Compass announced it would rehire 97% of the 229 laid-off workers. 

Businesses across the service industry have reported difficulty finding workers amid a nationwide labor shortage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were two million more job openings than unemployed workers in November 2021.

“Ongoing shortages within the labor pool continue to impact our staffing model,” Bamiatzis said. “During the last Fall Quarter, we regularly hired and onboarded new associates and continue to do so.”

SOLR members also said there aren’t enough workers to wash dishes, evidenced by the temporary use of disposable utensils and plates in dining halls. However, Bamiatzis said staff used disposable dishes only when washing machines were shut down for repairs or required maintenance. She added that conducting dining operations with as many sustainable practices as possible is a top priority for Compass.

SOLR has been advocating for Compass to hire more workers since early 2020, according to SOLR member Neva Legallet. 

​“(Being understaffed) puts a huge burden on workers and adds a lot of stress to their jobs that shouldn’t be necessary,” Legallet said. “It gives them extra responsibilities that they’re not getting compensated for necessarily.”

In its guide, SOLR recommends students speak with dining hall managers about hiring more staff, email Northwestern Dining with concerns and build personal relationships with workers.

While SOLR will remain vigilant to make sure Compass abides by the new contract, Legallet said the contract’s ratification was a victory for workers after more than two years of advocacy. Moving forward, SOLR is partnering with other student advocacy organizations, including Fossil Free Northwestern, Northwestern Community Not Cops, Students for Justice in Palestine and Northwestern University Graduate Workers.

In particular, Legallet said SOLR is excited about supporting NU’s library workers after they voted to unionize in December.

“It was really awesome to be part of (contract negotiations) for the workers, but also now it’s like, where are we going?” Legallet said. “We’re going to continue uplifting their campaigns and figuring out how we can best support them as their campaigns evolve.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @hannah_feuer 

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