Concessions workers at the United Center staged a one-day walkout Sunday that affected food and beverage service during the afternoon’s Chicago Bulls game.
The brief strike by members of Unite Here Local 1 was designed to ratchet up pressure on their employer for this week’s Big Ten men’s basketball tournament, which runs Wednesday through next Sunday at the United Center. The workers have authorized an open-ended strike that could be called any time.
Unite Here is negotiating with concessions operator Levy, part of Compass Group. A company spokesperson said fans could get food and beverages at Sunday’s game against the Indiana Pacers, but that menus were limited and no service was available in the private dining spaces Queenie’s, Stadium Club and Ketel One Club.
The next bargaining session is scheduled for Tuesday. Union members said their demand for a pension plan is a main sticking point. “The workers need a pension. The company has had a chance to remedy this situation, and it has chosen not to,” said Local 1 official Maria Hernandez.
The company said in a statement it has a pension offer on the table and has offered significant improvements in wages and benefits. Levy said the union’s main demands are a “card check” neutrality proposal and company contributions toward a union-run health fund. “Card check” neutrality could help the union recruit more members.
Hernandez, however, said neither of those two subjects are in the union’s current proposal.
“The Big Ten is coming, and the company knows what we want, but we are prepared to continue picketing if we have to,” Tawanda Murray, a concessions worker at the United Center for 28 seasons, said in a statement the union provided.
This week’s tournament is a pressure point for a settlement. Levy does not want it disrupted, but union members also could be reluctant to strike during the lucrative five-day event.
Levy said it is prepared to staff concessions in the event of a strike. It reported during Sunday’s game that 38% of its food service positions were staffed by union members crossing the picket line.
The union represents about 700 servers, cooks, bartenders, dishwashers and others at the United Center. It has said many of them resort to food pantries and welfare to make ends meet.
Union members insisted relatively few members defied the walkout.
Alma Moreira, s worker with 23 years at the United Center, said she will strike if one is called. “I will do it because I know how it is not to have food on your table.” she said. Moreira said she makes $17.11 per hour despite her tenure.
Jennifer Rizzo, a bartender for 29 years, said the company’s proposals for pension and health insurance are inadequate. “They have no respect for me or other women here,” she said.
Company officials said there has been major progress over more than 20 bargaining sessions. Levy said it has offered wage increases of $4 to $5 per hour, plus a new health care proposal that lets workers qualify for insurance with hours they work at Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field, where the company also has contracts.
“We have met, or made significant movement on, every ask the union has made that would directly benefit team members,” the company statement said. “We have offered to bring in a federal mediator, which the union declined. It is very difficult to understand why union leadership continues to hold up their members from receiving these benefits.”
Local 1 represents more than 16,000 hospitality workers in the Chicago area.