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

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

The Daily Northwestern


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Students Organizing for Labor Rights celebrates May Day amid ongoing contract negotiations between service workers, Compass Group

Dozens+of+students+and+campus+workers+arrived+at+the+Multicultural+Center+in+celebration+of+May+Day.
Jerry Wu/The Daily Northwestern
Dozens of students and campus workers arrived at the Multicultural Center in celebration of May Day.

On May 1, 1886, thousands of workers across the U.S. organized a strike to demand an 8-hour work day. 

Three years later, a federation of labor unions and socialist parties designated May 1 as a day to celebrate worker rights and commemorate the Haymarket Affair — a violent confrontation between labor demonstrators and police in Chicago on May 4, 1886.

Northwestern students and workers gathered at the Multicultural Center on Friday for Students Organizing for Labor Rights’ second annual May Day event.

Friday’s event featured band performances from University Singers and Latin Music Ensemble along with food sales, including spam musubi, empanadas and tacos, to help fundraise for mutual aid. 

“The significance of May Day is a day to celebrate workers around the world and to honor the work they provide for communities,” said SOLR member and SESP sophomore Anusha Kumar. “This school would literally not function without the labor campus workers have provided and the community they have built on campus.”

Student organizations from Fossil Free NU, Asian Pacific American Coalition, SOLR, Undergraduate Prison Education Program to NU Community for Human Rights and Society  and Society of Transgender and Non-Binary Students also set up tables, handed out flyers and posted sign up sheets. 

Attendees said May Day offered a chance for student organizers to become familiar with the different activist groups.

“Student activist groups really need to know they can rely on each other for organization,” said STANS member and SESP freshman Shepherd Williams. “Events like this are a good remedy to that and encourage club communications.”

Evanston organization Community Alliance for Better Government President Sebastian Nalls spoke at the event, stressing the need for civic engagement among students in the city. 

“Evanston here is your home away from home,” Nalls said. “Our goal as community members is to make that experience the most beneficial for you, to make an experience that is true to whatever you believe in and what causes you believe in.”

Originally scheduled on May 1, May Day was postponed in the wake of student demonstrators’ pro-Palestinian encampment on Deering Meadow, organizers said. They said they were concerned that by holding the event on the original date, attending service workers might be associated with the encampment and be reprimanded by management.

Organizers said this year’s event also highlighted the ongoing contract negotiations between NU dining and service workers and Compass Group, the University’s food service provider. The nearly three-year contract is set to run out at the end of August. 

Students and Compass workers organized a delegation that marched from The Arch to Compass Group Human Resource Manager Roshan Widhanage’s office around Sargent Hall on May 3. The group voiced their demands over a new contract. 

The march came after Compass Group delayed the first round of negotiation talks on April 30, according to an organizer from UNITE HERE Local 1, the union representing NU’s subcontracted workers.

“We just wanted to show student support because it is very intimidating for workers to be in that situation,” Kumar said. “We had at least 30 members walk with workers and show that there is a community there to support them.”

In February, SOLR released a petition where 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.

Workers said staff shortages resulted in dining hall stations closing early without explanation. Some also mentioned health issues as a result of the overwork and mistreatment by management.

“We especially recognize that May Day is during the Spring Quarter, when folks are entering finals and wrapping up the schools, so a lot of people do not know much about what’s actually going on with the contract,” said SOLR member and Communication sophomore Kimberly Espinosa, a former Daily staffer. “We are trying to spread information about the negotiations this year.”

Email: [email protected] 

X: @Jerrwu

Related Stories:

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

—  SOLR teach-in emphasizes learning from, building relationships with campus workers

—  SOLR hosts May Day event to celebrate campus workers, spotlight intersectional activism efforts

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