Following the release of a report by the UNITE HERE Local 1 union — which represents Loyola Dining employees — that detailed the strained living conditions of workers struggling to make ends meet, three Loyola Aramark workers sat down with The Phoenix to discuss the issues.
Jose Salas, who has worked at Loyola for eight years, said workers within the dining halls have been forced to take on more work with a staff that is far smaller than the one Aramark employed prior to the pandemic.
“It’s too hard because one person is now doing the job of two or three people,” Salas, a utility worker, told The Phoenix. “Many people didn’t come back from the pandemic, we need more people and I don’t see more people in any way.”
Javier Saenz, a cook in de Nobili Dining Hall who has worked at Loyola for 11 years, also told The Phoenix his workload has increased since returning from the pandemic.
“A lot of people don’t show up and you have to do the job,” Saenz said. “It’s extra work and I’ve had to ask the supervisor for help because it’s too much.”
Saenz said under the burden of the added work he burned his arm and hand in the kitchen one day. Saenz said the supervisor told him to fill out a report regarding the incident, though he said he never heard anything else after that and did not receive time off or injury compensation from Aramark.
Aramark declined to comment on this incident, as well as other questions The Phoenix had regarding working conditions.
Over the course of the pandemic Loyola Aramark workers received a $1.50 raise, The Phoenix reported. Salas and Saenz said even with this raise they are struggling to get by at their current wages.
Aramark employees on average make $17,078 a year, according to UNITE HERE Local 1’s report. With this salary they fall $60,000 short of what is estimated to be a living wage to support a family of four in Chicago. In the report, 77% of employees report being unable to pay their bills and 61% say they cannot afford healthy food for their families.
Cecilia Espinoza, who works in food service in de Nobili Dining Hall, said her wage is not enough to make ends meet.
“No it’s not enough, it’s difficult especially to pay all of the bills,” Espinoza, who has worked at Loyola for ten years, said. “I have student loans for my daughters I need to pay too, it’s difficult.”
Saenz said what Aramark pays isn’t enough on its own for him and his co-workers.
“Everybody has to get two jobs to survive, if you don’t have two jobs you don’t survive,” he said.
Salas, who works a second job as a personal assistant, said he’s also struggling to support himself and his wife, but also his parents in Mexico who he sends money to every month to support.
“It’s very difficult, my rent is more than $1,000 and going to the market and shopping is very expensive,” he said.
Salas said his coworkers live under constant financial stress, and that a raise in pay would help alleviate their struggles.
“There will be less stress, because many people are stressed about ‘oh my kids, my family, my rent everything,” he said. “Many people live and walk around in that stress with two jobs.”
Saenz said that when he returned to work at Loyola in August, after being laid off because of the pandemic, his health benefits did not immediately return. He said Aramark didn’t reinstate his insurance benefits until January.
In November, de Nobili Dining Hall was abruptly closed for a month following a kitchen fire, The Phoenix reported.
Saenz and Espinoza, who both work in the taqueria in de Nobili, said during the month the facility was closed they were laid off and left without pay or benefits.
Saenz said Aramark did not provide anything to help them through.
“In that month I couldn’t pay my bills. Water, electricity, nothing,” Espinoza said.
Student organizers, including freshman Ella McCreary, have helped to spread information on the conditions of Loyola Aramark workers.
Student organizers have worked with the UNITE HERE Local 1 union to garner student support, hand out buttons and circulate a petition which as of publication has received 1,700 signatures.
McCreary, a criminology major, said there’s overwhelming support for the workers and their cause.
“These are people we see everyday so now that everyone knows the facts, the support for the workers is insane,” she said. “We’ve had so many people ask for more buttons and people ask how to help out. I think just generally students are standing with workers and I hope it will continue.”
Salas said he’s appreciative of the students and their support.
He said the workers depend on the students and the students depend on them as well.
“We consider them a family with us,” he said. “Coming up on Easter Break a lot of students are going to go home, but international students will stay here and they need the dining halls. I feel a real responsibility to them.”