United Center concessions workers go on strike ahead of Big Ten Tournament

Days before the United Center is scheduled to play host to the Big Ten Tournament, workers who make the food, pour the drinks and clean the arena walked out on a one-day strike. 

Sunday's strike comes after unsuccessful talks with Compass/Levy and the company’s alleged federal, state and local labor law violations. 

Concessions workers authorized a strike at the beginning of February. Workers plan to picket in the coming days if no progress is made.

"We are striking today in hopes that the company will finally realize our worth and come to the table to negotiate in good faith, and stop their unlawful behavior towards us. The Big Ten is coming, and the company knows what we want, but we are prepared to continue picketing if we have to," said Tawanda Murray, Concessions for Compass/Levy at United Center 28 seasons.


Workers who authorized the strike with a 98% yes vote earlier this year have been fighting for a fair contract with affordable healthcare for all, a pension to retire with dignity, better wages, and benefits.

"I am striking because after working 30 seasons for Compass/Levy at the United Center I have no way of retiring. I have given my life to this company and those decades of service have meant nothing to them," said Jamie O'Neill, Stand Manager for Compass/Levy at the United Center.

Levy released a statement today in response to the walk out. 

"We have been at the bargaining table more than 20 times to have good faith discussions. 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," the statement read. 

Compass Group is the sixth-largest company in the world. Its subsidiary, Levy Restaurants, employs nearly 700 food servers, bartenders, suite attendants, cooks and dishwashers at the United Center, an overwhelming majority of whom are workers of color. Workers have been without a new contract for 3 years.

"We did not want it to come to this, but unfortunately Compass/Levy is not offering all of its workers the wages, healthcare and benefits they deserve," said Karen Kent, President of UNITE HERE Local 1. "Too many times in the last year we have heard hospitality representatives in Chicago say, ‘there is a labor shortage.’ The reality is, there is a good job shortage, and it is in Chicago’s interest to keep a steady, committed workforce with good stable jobs. Workers are striking because it is time to turn stadium jobs into good jobs for Chicago."

Bargaining is scheduled to continue on Tuesday, March 7.

The Chicago Bulls are scheduled to play the Indiana Pacers this afternoon at the United Center.

When the strike was authorized last month Levy sent a letter to workers saying, "In the event of a strike, our plan is to continue to operate the concessions and other food service operations. If team members are not available to staff these operations, we will bring in temporary employees and, if necessary, have supervisors pitch in."

Today, Levy said plans are in place to continue food and beverage service.

The 2023 Big Ten Conference Men’s Basketball Tournament is scheduled for March 8-12 at United Center.