SOLR transitions to in-person mutual aid, emphasizes relationships with NU workers


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

After relying mostly on virtual distribution during the COVID-19 pandemic, SOLR is transitioning back to in-person mutual aid.

Lucia Barnum, Assistant Audio Editor

After a quarter of focusing on direct funding distribution and contract re-negotiation, Northwestern Students Organizing for Labor Rights is transitioning back to tabling and an in-person mutual aid distribution system. 

Tabling and in-person funding distribution is not new to SOLR, but during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the organization shifted to mostly virtual distribution. SOLR organizer and SESP junior Neva Legallet said this quarter’s mutual aid system will help maintain the organization’s primary goal — centering workers’ experiences and needs. 

“Everything we do is informed by workers’ needs and wants and what they have going on,” Legallet said. “SOLR is not an organization independent of workers. We are very much in solidarity with them.”

Last quarter, SOLR focused on supporting workers through new contract negotiations with Compass Group, the University’s food service provider, said Medill senior Harrison Tremarello, a SOLR organizer. Workers voted to ratify the contract on Oct. 18., which guarantees workers a higher minimum wage and permanent health insurance benefits. 

“We greatly value our talented associates and are immensely appreciative for their daily contributions to our dining program,” Sophia Bamiatzis, a Compass Group representative, wrote in an email to The Daily. “We look forward to continuing our relationship with SOLR and maintaining an open and ongoing dialogue.”

According to Tremarello, a former Daily staffer, tabling events have taken a backseat in the past because of SOLR’s focus on direct fund distribution. He said SOLR discontinued that mutual aid system in December. It previously involved transferring money from community contributors directly to workers’ bank accounts. He added that direct fund distribution was developed in part because of safety concerns around COVID-19. 

Both Tremarello and Legallet said in-person tabling better accomplishes their goal of developing authentic relationships with workers and determining how SOLR can best meet their needs. 

“Being able to see people face-to-face builds that relationship between students and staff here at the university — which I think is really important and really foundational to the work that we want to do,” Tremarello said.

Tremarello said SOLR began in-person tabling, where organizers set up a table to collect community contributions of PPE and other physical supplies, in fall 2020. He said SOLR has generally held about one tabling event per quarter in the past.

SOLR held a tabling event out of the Multicultural Center Friday. Despite the snow, Tremarello said they received a “decent amount” of community contributions. 

While they don’t currently have a solidified plan for how they will redistribute contributions to workers, Tremarello said in the past, SOLR has coordinated with workers to figure out which days are most convenient to pick up supplies. They then set up tables at several spots around campus, such as outside dining halls, and time distribution efforts around when workers’ shifts end. 

SOLR uses distribution as an opportunity to build relationships with workers, asking for phone numbers to contact them about future events, Tremarello said. Organizers pass out fliers beforehand to ensure workers know how and when they can stop by distribution tables, and he said workers can reach out if distribution times don’t fit their schedule. 

According to Legallet, SOLR is primarily looking for donations of personal protective equipment — like high-quality masks and rapid tests — household goods such as cleaning supplies, toilet paper and non-perishable groceries and preloaded Visa and Ventra cards. She said the best thing students can do to support SOLR is to join SOLR’s monthly donation program or attend community events such as tabling. Even following them on social media and sharing their content helps spread SOLR’s message, she added.  

Legallet emphasized contributing to SOLR is not the same as giving to a charity. She said their goal is to recognize the autonomy and agency of everyone in their community — and through their contributions, students acknowledge that sharing resources benefits the NU community as a whole.  

“You are recognizing that the community is suffering because some people in it are suffering,” Legallet said. “You’re alleviating that by your advocacy, by your mutual aid contributions, by participating and by just acknowledging everyone’s individuality and also everyone’s interdependence on each other.” 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @luciabarnum_

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