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Contract deadline for NU food service workers passes

What company called its last best offer was not submitted to a member vote by the union, whose leaders say it would take away benefits, rights and protections.

NU food service workers protested on campus on June 3, 2021.

A Sept. 1 deadline for 400 Northwestern University food service and conference center workers to decide on a contract offer has passed without a vote, and it’s uncertain what will happen next.

The unionized workers, members of Unite Here Local 1, have been without a new contract since 2019. They are not employed by the university, but rather by a vendor, Compass Group, an international food services company.

There have been negotiations, but no deal has been reached.

Compass recently issued a news release saying that last Wednesday, the company presented the union with an 85-page “comprehensive proposal,” which management called it’s “last best” offer.

In an email to Evanston Now, Sophia Bamiatizis, the company’s district marketing manager, said the proposal contains “significant wage increases, and a $500 bonus contingent on the Union ratifying the offer by Sept. 1.”

If workers reject a “last best offer,” or do not vote, the company then has the option of imposing the terms of the deal, whether the employees like it or not.

However, Compass did not directly answer an Evanston Now question as to whether that will indeed take place.

Compass says the offer provides an immediate raise of $2 per hour, and $3.25 over the life of the contract. Average starting wage, the company states, would be $18 per hour.

Bamiatzis said, “We still hope that Unite Here Local 1 will give our employees the opportunity to vote ….”

However, Elliot Mallen, spokesperson for Local 1, said “Compass’ proposal is about as well-thought-out as their Sept. 1 deadline,” which he said was unrealistic, given that back-to-work orientation starts Sept. 2.

In an email to Evanston Now, Mallen said that “After two years of bargaining, Compass is still proposing to take away benefits, rights and protections from their workers at Northwestern.”

The company’s District Manager, Bamiatzis, hinted that Compass might not impose the terms of its offer. She said management hopes the workers will accept the deal so they will be able to start the school year with a pay hike and would not face “the uncertainty of continued contract negotiations.”

However, the union’s Mallen said “The proposed raises aren’t enough, and Compass isn’t even offering retroactive raises for people who worked during the pandemic.”

So unless either side budges, after more than two years, it does not appear that an end to this labor dispute is in sight.

Jeff Hirsh

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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