‘We’re not machines.’ Workers at United Center allege labor abuse by Levy Restaurants

Among complaints are allegations Levy violated state law, working dishwashers for 35 days straight.

SHARE ‘We’re not machines.’ Workers at United Center allege labor abuse by Levy Restaurants
Food Service workers picket outside the United Center to protest labor law violations and abusive behavior by United Center’s concessionaire Compass Levy. Wednesday, December 7, 2022.

Food service workers march outside the United Center Tuesday to protest alleged labor law violations and abusive behavior by United Center concessionaire Compass Levy.

Sun-Times file

Food service and sanitation workers at the United Center filed dozens of labor complaints against the venue’s concessionaire Tuesday, alleging the company violated labor law by working some employees 35 days straight.

About a dozen workers — employed by Levy Restaurants, a subsidiary of Compass Group — and Unite Here Local 1 members picketed outside United Center, holding signs reading “Levy stop breaking the law” and “overworked and underpaid.”

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In total, 24 separate allegations were made against Levy. Workers filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board, the Illinois Department of Labor and the city of Chicago’s Office of Labor Standards.

Among the complaints are allegations that Levy violated the state’s One Day Rest in Seven Act, which requires one 24-hour period off per week.

Jesus Flores, a dishwasher at United Center, is one of the workers who alleges being over-scheduled. He said he would like to spend more time at home with his 16-year-old daughter, but the company is making it impossible.

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Food service workers outside the United Center protest alleged labor law violations.

Brian Rich/Sun-Times

“A lot of us have experienced depression and stress,” said Flores, who has worked for 20 years at the venue. “I’d like to have some time for my family. Not having a day off isn’t right, we’re not machines, we’re human beings. Compass Levy has to respect the law.”

Flores added that he wants to work to provide for his family, but he wants more control over his schedule.

After alerting their manager of their rights, the dishwashers were given a day off, only to be scheduled for another 10 days straight, Unite HERE Local 1 said in a statement. Other workers also alleged that the company changed their schedule without proper notice.

One worker had scheduled a doctor’s appointment on his day off, Nov. 15, but the day before, he was notified that his day off was changed to Nov. 17. The employee ended up using a personal day so he could make the appointment, according to the complaint.

The company also has not made legally required postings that notify workers of their rights under the law, the union said, and it began illegally monitoring workers when they spoke out about their working conditions.

“They’re also fighting to get more people hired, because otherwise they’re left with a lot more work,” said Cecilia Macias, who works in the United Center kitchens. “They don’t have a day off, and they’re overworked. That can possibly lead to an accident.”

Workers also filed complaints alleging the company was changing several policies regarding uniforms, assigned duties, lunch breaks and time-off requests without giving the union an opportunity to bargain.

In a comment provided by the union, Tawanda Murray, who works as an attendant for Levy at United Center, said “I’ve given 28 years of my life serving Bulls and Blackhawks fans. I’m proud of the work we do here at the United Center, but this abusive, law-breaking behavior from Levy needs to stop.”

In a statement, Levy said it values team members and recognizes their right to peacefully demonstrate.

“We take allegations like these very seriously and will immediately look into these claims,” the company said. “The well-being of our team members and continued compliance with the law are our top priorities.”

Flores and Macias also said they would like to get paid more for the work they’re doing.

“Everything has to change. It’s just not right,” Flores said.

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