Chartwells employees, students advocate for laid-off workers

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Marcus Robertson

Le'Denise Henderson, a Chartwells barista who was laid off, speaks to protesters.

On Friday, June 19, Chartwells’ dining workers marched and rallied with DePaul University students to call for compensation after they were laid off in March as a result of the pandemic. The march is also in celebration of Juneteenth to honor the freedom of African-Americans from slavery.

Unite Here Local 1 organized the protest, along with help from the DePaul Community Accountability Alliance, a DePaul community organization. The union represents 16,000 hospitality workers in Chicago and Northwest Indiana. 

Protesters began at the Fullerton station and continued on to Trebes Park in a single line in order to follow safety guidelines for COVID-19. Organizers handed out six-foot strings as a social distancing guide for anyone participating.

“The workforce is 43 percent black and they felt strongly about making this a Juneteenth celebration and calling for justice,” said union spokesperson Noah Carson-Nelson.

As DePaul moved to remote learning in response to the coronavirus, 82 out of the 90 dining workers were laid off in mid-March. More than half of the Chartwells workers said that they cannot afford groceries since they’ve been unemployed, according to a Unite Here Local 1 survey of 24 out of the 82 laid-off workers.

Le’Denise Henderson, a Chartwells barista at DePaul, said that she has kept resources to share with her fellow coworkers. 

“I’ve been spreading that news out to coworkers whom I can get into contact with,” Henderson said. She mentioned Star Farm Chicago, which makes fresh produce accessible to communities in need. 

Henderson also says that Chartwells began communicating with them approximately two weeks before she was laid off on March 19. 

“They didn’t know whether we were going to be laid off or if we were going to stay,” she said. 

Rev. Larry Dowling, pastor at St. Agatha Catholic Church, spoke at the rally about DePaul’s role as a Catholic institution.

“When workers are now without work because of this pandemic, it is incumbent on a university that bears the name of St. Vincent de Paul, a champion of the poor, to ensure their God-given dignity and to take care of their families,” Dowling said.

Isabel Avila, a Chartwells barista, told the crowd in Spanish that after three months of no income and no unemployment benefits, she has no money for rent.

“The company just told us, ‘Go home,’” said Avila’s translator. “The company never asked how we were doing. The company never asked if we could pay rent.” 

Jenni Nguyen, a rising junior at DePaul, offered support to the workers via a statement. 

“I am supporting DePaul Chartwells workers in this struggle because I believe that they deserve pay, should be able to feed their families, have a roof over their head, and have the ability to pay for medical care — those necessities should be available to all, not just the wealthy,” said Nguyen.

Henderson said the $600 stimulus check they receive at the end of each week will run out in July. 

“It will either end up with our regular rate of pay which, for many, is going to be a third of what we’re getting now — a third of the $1,200 dollars. Then some people won’t even get that because then your unemployment will run out. I’m one of those people.”

She said she is trying to purchase items now that will help her in the long-term. 

“I bought a deep freezer,” Henderson said, “I started stocking up for food, I started stocking up vegetables and fruit because I don’t know. I don’t know and that’s the scary part.”

 

Correction: A previous version of this story listed the Coalition for Racial Justice as organizers of the march, when in reality, it was the DePaul Community Accountability Alliance. Additionally, Jenni Nguyen gave her statements outside of the rally, not during the protest itself. The story has since been updated to reflect the proper information.