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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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SOLR-led walkout at Sargent Hall demands better conditions, adequate pay for Compass workers

Protesters+gathered+around+Sargent+Hall%2C+holding+up+signs+that+read+%E2%80%9CWe+demand+justice+for+workers%2C%E2%80%9D+%E2%80%9CCompass%2C+realign+your+morals%E2%80%9D+and+%E2%80%9CHold+Compass+accountable.%E2%80%9D
Joyce Li/The Daily Northwestern
Protesters gathered around Sargent Hall, holding up signs that read “We demand justice for workers,” “Compass, realign your morals” and “Hold Compass accountable.”

More than 70 students gathered outside of Sargent Dining Hall in a Tuesday walkout to demand better working conditions for service workers contracted by Compass Group, NU’s food service contractor. 

Students Organizing for Labor Rights organized the walkout after they received several reports from dining hall workers describing overworking and hostility from management in the past month. 

Protesters formed a line, holding up signs that read “We demand justice for workers,” “Compass, realign your morals” and “Hold Compass accountable.” They chanted phrases including “We support workers” and “Shame on Compass.” 

“Our privilege as students … to have meals available to us at almost every hour of the day cannot come at the sacrifice of workers’ rights,” SOLR member and Communication senior Jordan Muhammad said at the rally. 

In a petition circulated by SOLR, anonymous Compass workers shared testimonies describing understaffing, overworking and Compass’s alleged refusal to schedule overtime workers in the dining halls and Norris University Center. Some testimonies were read out during the protest. 

Workers said staff shortages have resulted in dining hall stations closing early without explanation, leaving other workers to cover those stations. Some also said they experienced health issues as a result of the overwork, mistreatment by inexperienced management and reduced employee meals.

The petition calls on the University to hold Compass accountable by hiring more staff, allowing  employees to work overtime hours with adequate compensation, ending hostile work environment conditions and disclosing Compass’s hiring practices and reasons why dining halls stations have closed to students. 

The petition gained over 780 signatures from NU students, parents, faculty and alumni. According to SOLR members, more than 300 signatories indicated interest in learning about and getting involved with SOLR. 

Compass will renegotiate its contract with workers this summer, according to SOLR members. Members said they plan to continue raising awareness about these negotiations and how to improve worker conditions.

“(The turnout) is really unprecedented and honestly should be pretty scary for the University as we come up to contract renegotiations — the fact that students see what’s happening and are not okay with it,” SOLR member and Weinberg junior Julián Fefer said. 

In a 2018 University news release announcing Compass’s takeover of NU food services, University spokesperson Jon Yates wrote that the NU’s plan to work with Compass emphasizes “a commitment to ensuring fair wages for food service employees.”

SOLR member and SESP junior Hana-Lei Ji said that although NU is not directly involved in Compass’s policies and services, the University should respect its promise to work with Compass to ensure the equitable treatment of its service workers.

Following the walkout, a group of SOLR members marched to the office of the Compass Group Human Resource Manager Roshan Widhanage, to whom they delivered and read the petition.

Widhanage’s office declined to comment on the petition.

“One thing that we always try to prioritize is to see the person that we’re delivering the petition face to face,” SOLR member and SESP sophomore Anusha Kumar said. “We’re hoping that by really putting some emotion behind these words … (we’re) showing this is a real concern, and that there are real people behind these challenges.”

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