Isabel Avila started her job as a DePaul food service employee 18 years ago, when her two children were still in elementary school. As a single mother, she worked hard to provide for her children as they were growing up. Now, although she still works full time for DePaul, her kids have to support her instead.

“I can’t pay bills or rent,” Avila said. “My son has to help me because I am not earning enough… This is totally wrong.

Underpaid and often overworked and without acceptable health care, Avila and nearly a hundred other DePaul catering workers went to the polls on Thursday in a last ditch effort to demand better working conditions and end a two-year fight with their parent company. to approve their last card: A strike.

Ninety-two percent of restaurant workers voted to authorize a strike against Chartwells, the university’s food service provider. A day earlier, Northwestern employees also voted for a strike with a 95 percent “yes”.

The strike will take effect in October if their contract is not renegotiated.

Foodservice workers at DePaul are contracted out by Chartwells, a division of the Compass Group, which is a global service company that operates in 50 countries and employs approximately 600,000 people worldwide.

According to DePaul Chartwells employees, they have been trying to negotiate a new contract with the Compass Group for about two years. Workers say that since their last contract expired, they haven’t received any raises and most are paid minimum wage and face inconsistent insurance plans.

On average, Chartwells employees earn only $ 25,033 per year. The poverty line for a family of four is $ 25,750. According to the MIT Living Wage Calculator, the annual pre-tax income required to live in Chicago is $ 33,438 for an adult living alone.

Unite Here Local 1 reported that among survey respondents, 88 percent of Chartwells employees are people of color.

“Let me put it that way,” said Jose Beltran, 48, a Chartwells employee. “We have been working here for 15 years and we only get 15 dollars [an hour]. “

The minimum wage Beltran receives has put him in financial insecurity over the years.

“Sometimes we have two jobs,” Beltran said. “I have five children and have had to work two jobs over the years. It is a problem.”

DePaul chairman A. Gabriel Esteban said that while he feels for Chartwells employees, he has no place in the labor dispute.

“I have a lot of empathy for them, but it’s a relationship between Chartwells and the union,” he told The DePaulia. “We don’t fit in… There are so many big companies: Chartwells, Aramark. It’s one or the other. “

Glynis Donaldson, 58, currently works at Brownstones Cafe. She worked at Chartwells on DePaul’s Lincoln Park campus for 15 years.

“We haven’t had a raise for two years,” she said. “They gave us 20 cents and are trying to take out $ 5,000 in life insurance.”

Donaldson has five grandchildren and would like to buy a house someday, but can’t save enough on minimum wage.

“I’m holding on but… I don’t even want to come in here… It’s not worth it,” she said with tears in her eyes. “I don’t even want to talk about it, I’m getting emotional.”

According to a survey conducted this year by Unite Here Local 1, 49% of Chartwells employees don’t have enough money to pay their bills, 85% have less than $ 1,000 in savings, 48% owe 1,000 $ or more, not including a mortgage, and 49% receive government social assistance program benefits.

Although many Chartwells workers have worked for the restaurant business for over a decade, many remain food insecure themselves. According to the same survey, 43 percent of DePaul Chartwells employees have gone to a pantry this year.

“Now it’s getting worse and worse,” said Avila, who is also a shop steward for Unite Here Local 1, said. “They don’t want to pay more. This company is present all over the world. They make billions. And they don’t want to give us [anything]. “

Compass Group North America alone generated $ 20.1 billion in revenue in fiscal 2019.

Greg Daniels, a dishwasher at Lincoln Park Student Center, had simple words for treating workers: “Bad, wrong, wrong.”

“They pay agency workers more than we do,” he said. “The temporary workers earn $ 22 an hour, while we are paid $ 15. “

Temporary workers work at DePaul on a daily basis and apply through on-demand recruiting apps such as GigPro. Pay inequality makes DePaul workers feel undervalued and looked down upon.

“I have been here for 20 years. How do you think I feel? I’ve been here since this building opened, ”Daniels said, gesturing around the student center. “I want to cry every day… I’m tired, I can’t play with my grandchildren when I come home.

Tiffany Perez works as a cashier and as a shop steward. She said she hopes Chartwells negotiates and workers don’t need to strike, but feels the need to make Chartwells workers heard.

“I hope we don’t need to go on strike,” Perez said. “I hope we will get recognition for the people who have been there, who have dedicated themselves. I would like to recognize the hard work and dedication.

“People are in desperate suffering,” Perez said. “The cost of living is only going up.

During the pandemic, Perez did not touch unemployment. Now she is working overtime to catch up.

The financial woes of many other Chartwells employees were compounded by the pandemic, when employees were laid off and left on hold without guaranteed pay.

However, despite the low wages and the resulting financial insecurity, Perez still enjoys his job.

“I love being a part of the community and the students,” Perez said. “We really feel at home. The only thing we ask is to live better.

DePaul students will show their support for Chartwells employees at a community meeting hosted by the DePaul Community Accountability Alliance and Unite Here Local 1 on Wednesday, September 29 on Zoom.

“Everyone’s story is different, the only thing we have in common is that we barely manage,” Perez said. “People have rent, bills, child care to pay, I have overdue credit card debt. The only thing we have in common is money. It’s not enough.”

“They say ‘great job’. But “great job” doesn’t pay my bills, “Perez said.

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