No union deal yet at United Center as Big Ten tournament starts

Concessions workers represented by Unite Here Local 1 are bargaining with Levy, part of Compass Group.

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Members of Unite Here Local 1 walk a picket line during a one-day strike Sunday at the United Center.

Members of Unite Here Local 1 walk a picket line during a one-day strike Sunday at the United Center.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

Bargaining between the concessions contractor at the United Center and its unionized employees has failed to produce an agreement and a strike could begin any time at the West Side arena, which hosts the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament starting Wednesday.

Members of Unite Here Local 1 have authorized a strike. The union engaged in a one-day walkout Sunday that limited service for fans at a Chicago Bulls game.

In a statement, Local 1 official Maria Hernandez emphasized the possibility of a strike. Both sides said talks Tuesday night ended with no deal and negotiations will resume Saturday.

The union is negotiating with Levy, part of Compass Group.

A Levy spokesperson said it will modify food and beverage service at the Big Ten Tournament if a strike is called. He said “menus will be adjusted to focus on fan favorites and top-selling items.”

The company has said less popular stands and the private dining space Queenie’s would be closed if a strike occurs. Stadium Club and Ketel One Club at the arena typically don’t open for the tournament, Levy said.

Union members have cited pensions and health insurance as two major issues to be resolved. The company said it has offered substantial improvements in those areas, plus wage increases and has expressed frustration that its offer has not been presented to members for a vote.

The United Center is booked for the tournament through Sunday. Thursday and Friday each feature four games. Two games are scheduled each on Wednesday and Saturday and the championship contest will be played Sunday.

Members of United Here Local 1 picket Sunday  outside the United Center demanding better wages and benefits for concession workers.

Members of United Here Local 1 picket Sunday outside the United Center demanding better wages and benefits for concession workers.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times file

The Levy spokesperson said the company on Tuesday proposed “additional funding to lower the number of hours required to qualify for year-round health insurance, thus expanding the number of team members who will benefit.”

The union is bargaining to let members qualify for health insurance for hours they work at Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field, venues where Levy also has contracts.

The company previously has said it has offered wage increases of $4 to $5 per hour, bringing the minimum to $20 an hour.

The union represents 700 workers at the United Center.

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