The Big Ten’s men’s basketball tournament will take place this weekend at Chicago’s United Center, but food service at the arena could be impacted amid a continuing impasse between workers and management.
UNITE HERE Local 1, which represents nearly 700 employees at the arena, says that it is seeking more affordable healthcare, pension funding, better wages and benefits, but has said that a strike is still on the table if negotiations don’t result in a new bargaining agreement.
The union had undertaken a one-day strike over the weekend, but could embark on a more-disruptive work stoppage during the tournament, which starts Wednesday.
“The union is doing everything it can to resolve the dispute before the Big Ten (tournament,” Karen Kent, the president of the union, said in a statement. “If talks do not move forward, employees at the United Center are prepared to take action at any moment, including, but not limited to, a strike.”
The union’s members include food servers, bartenders, suite attendants, cooks and dishwashers, according to a press release.
The union says that the idea of a strike, endorsed by 98% of members, is one they’re trying to avoid, but that they feel it may become necessary as a stalemate over health coverage continues.
“We hope it does not come to (a strike),” Kent said.
The employees are managed by Levy Restaurants, which says it has offered increased wages, a new pension fund and a proposal to provide healthcare to 85% of the union’s members at the arena.
The company says that the sticking point in negotiations remains the Union’s Hotel Health Fund, which Levy argues “helps to subsidize shortfalls for other employers.”
UNITE HERE’s union not only represents United Center workers, but also an additional 16,000-plus members in various industries in the city.
Levy says that the proposals put forth by the union would require it to make contributions toward health care for employees who don’t work at the arena.
“Through the union’s Hotel Health Fund, the union is saying it wants to control access to health care,” a Levy spokesperson said. “What the union is not saying is that our contributions to its plan would subsidize its broader fund…This means that we will have to make contributions for our team members who do not qualify for insurance under the union’s plan, and these contributions will instead benefit workers who may never work a shift at the United Center.”
In terms of what a potential strike would cause, Levy says that food and beverage service would “continue as normal” under current plans, but in the event of a work stoppage, menus would be “adjusted to focus on fan favorites and top-selling items.”
Specialty stands would be closed in the event of a strike. Clubs with sit-down service, including the Stadium Club and Ketel One Club, are not typically open during the tournament, according to the company.
The tournament is scheduled to get underway Wednesday when Wisconsin and Ohio State tangle at 5:30 p.m.
Top-seeded Purdue is scheduled to play at 11 a.m. Friday. Illinois will face Penn State on Thursday at 5:30 p.m., with the winner slated to play Northwestern on Friday at the same time.
Soruce : https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/united-center-food-workers-levy-officials-aim-to-avoid-strike-ahead-of-big-ten-tournament/3088899/