In the face of expected layoffs, food service workers from the Thompson Center cafeteria rallied Friday morning in downtown Chicago, calling on Gov. Pat Quinn to protect their jobs in the building that houses his local office.
“We need Quinn to step in and save our jobs, we’re in his house, serving his employees and—while he’s saying he wants to raise the minimum wage—we’re about to be unemployed,” said Sharon Nix, 35, a contract Sodexo employee at the James R. Thompson Center, at 100 W. Randolph St., for roughly 13 years.
Nix’s manager at Sandella’s Flatbread Café told workers in April that Sodexo, one of the nation's largest contracted food and facilities companies, plans to leave its post at the Thompson Center’s Great State Fare cafeteria by June 30, she said. Nix claims she was told she and her colleagues would be laid off, and would have to reapply for a position with the new company that takes Sodexo’s place.
Nix and about a dozen colleagues and organizers with UNITE HERE Local 1, the union that represents the food service employees, rallied Friday morning outside of the Thompson Center, passing out flyers and urging people to sign petitions, in an effort to save the jobs.
"We want to continue serving you and the State of Illinois employees," read the flyer. "Help us tell Gov. Quinn: Keep us on the job!"
Sodexo has employed 29 workers at the Great State Fare cafeteria for more than 20 years, according to UNITE HERE.
The union expects layoffs to begin in the coming days.
“We’re not sure what company is coming in to replace Sodexo; we don’t know why Sodexo is leaving; workers haven’t been provided any options and haven’t gotten any offers for job interviews; the workers are essentially being left in the dark,” said Carly Karmel, spokesperson for UNITE HERE Local 1.
The expected layoffs will come only weeks after Sodexo workers at Great State Fare ratified a collective bargaining agreement that improves their wages, Karmel said. The new contract would provide the lowest paid worker $10.35 per hour after June 1.
But, if the company leaves within the next couple of weeks, most of the workers will be laid off before they receive the wage increase for which they bargained, Karmel added.
“The governor has been advocating for a $10 per hour minimum wage. So, just as workers will be earning more than what he’s advocating, they’re going to lose their jobs,” she said. “They’ve been working at his house for decades and we don’t even know what’s going to happen next week. That’s scary.”
Hugo Carcuz, 34, a Sodexo employee who has worked at Sandella’s for two years, criticized the company for not providing its workers alternative employment opportunities.
“When I started here I thought I was going to plant my roots, but they’re just being dirty,” Carcuz said.
Here's more from Carcuz, who passed out flyers during Friday’s rally:
Sodexo is attributing the pending closure to their client.
"Sodexo has enjoyed the opportunity to provide excellent food service at The Great State Fare in the Atrium Mall at the James R. Thompson Center," said Enrico Dinges, a spokesperson for Sodexo. "Unfortunately, our client has decided to go in a different direction with their food service program and we will therefore be ending our management of the food service program in June. We wish the employees, customers and local community continued success and we certainly welcome the opportunity to serve them again in the future."
Dinges said the company held an all employee meeting on April 16 regarding Great State Fare's change in vendors.
"In terms of employees interested in staying at Sodexo, our managers reached out to other area accounts to let them know workers would be interested," he said, adding that there are no gaurantees for open positions and workers would likely have to apply for a new job.
Dinges confirmed Sodexo's contract runs through June 30, but he was unsure whether the company would be scaling down the eateries' workforces before that date.
Meanwhile, 51-year-old Carmen Feliciano, a Sodexo employee at Kentucky Fried Chicken for 25 years, said she doesn’t know what she will do when she loses her job.
“Where am I going to go? Who will want me?” she said, adding that she makes $12 per hour at the Great State Fare cafeteria.
“I can't afford to take anything less than what I am making,” Feliciano said. "I need this job."