Campus workers discuss mistreatment, poor conditions at James Allen Center


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

Campus workers have collaborated with Students Organizing for Labor Rights to advocate for better treatment.

Isabel Funk, Print Managing Editor

Workers at the Kellogg School of Management’s James Allen Center have been advocating for their rights for months, asking managers to treat them with respect, hire more staff and honor their contract.

Valentina Espinosa, a housekeeper in the center, is a shop steward for the dining and service workers union, represented by UNITE HERE Local 1, serving as a union representative in the workplace. She has been trying to raise workers’ concerns to managers, but said she’s received threats and accusations in response.

Espinosa said managers have been abusing their authority and trying to rush her and her coworkers. When she told her coworkers they didn’t have to do so, managers accused her of organizing a strike — a fireable offense.

“They say, ‘You’re trying to do a strike. This is not part of the contract and we can discipline you,’” Espinosa said. “I was really angry with that because it’s not true.”

Students Organizing for Labor Rights joined workers for a delegation on Nov. 3 to support them in speaking to managers about their concerns. While workers had been engaging in these conversations before, they said student involvement adds pressure to management.

SESP senior and SOLR member Neva Legallet said worker treatment in the James Allen Center is exacerbated because of the lack of student presence. The center hosts the Executive MBA Program and Executive Education programs. The delegation allowed SOLR to read a statement of support, list demands and provide space for workers to raise their concerns to management with a student audience.

“Workers who have been speaking up for themselves and their coworkers are being singled out and targeted by management,” Legallet said. “We are demanding that they stop threatening to retaliate (against) workers that are standing up for themselves and their colleagues.”

SOLR released a petition in April calling for managers to respect workers, receiving more than 450 signatures from community members. Legallet said holding this delegation was just the next step in advocating for the workers in the center.

Espinosa said she turned to SOLR because she felt she had exhausted her other options and that managers haven’t taken her seriously. She’s held other employee-only delegations, but she said those didn’t lead to lasting changes. She said she’s grateful to have student support.

Legallet said the demands are frustrating because they aren’t necessarily tangible and can’t be articulated in a contract.

“You can’t write a contract requiring managers to simply be kind and respectful of workers, but that shouldn’t be something that we have to demand or put in the contract,” Legallet said. “That should just be a standard that’s met for all community members.”

The University subcontracts dining and service workers through Compass Group. In an email to The Daily, Compass District Marketing Manager Sophia Bamiatzis said Compass received SOLR’s demands and is contractually obligated to deal directly with the union. 

University spokesperson Jon Yates said in an email to The Daily that contracted workers are “important and valued members of (NU’s) community.”

Espinosa said managers also sometimes do employees’ work as a way to save money. When Espinosa asked her manager to stop this practice, she said her manager yelled at her.

Maria Mendoza, a laundry worker at the James Allen Center, said there have been disputes over overtime work. Managers have also sped up laundry machine cycles to pressure employees to work faster, she said. Mendoza added that there is favoritism toward workers who speak better English, as managers will only talk to those who speak it best.

“Everybody understand, no speak good English, but understand English,” Mendoza said. “When the manager (comes) down and starts to do that, that’s when conflicts happen at the laundry.”

Workers have also had issues with payments, Mendoza said. She said sometimes payments contain mistakes and lack compensation for hours or days of work.

Standardized pay practices that adhere to the workers’ contract ratified in October 2021 were among SOLR’s demands.

“It’s about dignity, respect and fairness, and those are not radical things to ask for,” Legallet said.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @isabeldfunk

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