United Center concession workers strike days ahead of Bulls game, Big Ten tournament; demand better compensation

CHICAGO (WLS) — United Center concession workers are on the picket line Sunday, demanding better compensation.

The workers walked off the job on a Bulls game day at the United Center, impacting some service for fans.

The one-day walkout comes not just on a game day for the Chicago Bulls, but days before the Big Ten tournament is scheduled to take place here. And while the workers’ union will not say whether they will do this again during the tournament, they have not ruled it out either.

A limited menu at the concession stands, and no service at Queenie’s fans greeted today as they arrived for this afternoon’s Bulls game against the Pacers. Two of the United Center’s member’s only and premium seating clubs were also affected.

The reason: a one-day walkout staged by the UC’s food and beverage workers.

“I’ve been here for over three decades. April will be 33 years for me. And they don’t give me health insurance. I do have health insurance, but I pay for it out of pocket — over $400 a month,” said Jamie O’Neill, concession stand manager at United Center.

Health care and pension benefits, according to Union leaders, are the two sticking points between them and Compass/Levy. Compass/Levy is the company that employs not just the concession workers at the United Center, but also at several other of Chicago’s sports and entertainment venues as well.

RELATED: United Center concessions workers vote in favor of authorizing strike

“There’s many people that work a circuit so they go around and work at this hotel, that hotel, McCormick Place, Navy Pier and bundle their hours together to assemble that and get health care coverage,” said Karen Kent, president of Unite Here Local 1. “We want to make sure that people have health care coverage that continues from place to place around the city.”

The company said they are offering employees the opportunity to bundle hours between the United Center, Wrigley and Guaranteed Rate Fields, providing coverage to 85% of their employees.

They accuse the union of putting their own interests ahead of their members saying in part: “We have met, or made significant movement on, every ask the union has made that would directly benefit team members. We have offered to bring in a federal mediator which the union declined.”

As for fans, those who spoke with ABC7 seemed generally unconcerned by the impact on concessions and expressed their support for the workers’ demands.

“I believe it’s fair. Everybody should have reasonable, affordable health insurance,” said Bulls fan, Gerald Stewart.

“I’m a season ticket holder and I fully support the workers. I’m not going to be buying any concessions if they’re on strike. And I fully support Levy restaurants giving them a fair wage. They work hard,” said fellow Bulls fan, Brad Thompson.

The company is calling on the union to allow workers to vote on the offer that is currently on the table. The next bargaining session between the union and Levy restaurants is scheduled for Tuesday.

Levy issued a statement Sunday night regarding service at the United Center, saying, “Food and beverage was provided throughout the United Center this afternoon. 38% of food service positions at today’s Bulls game were staffed by UNITE HERE Local 1 team members.”

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