Another United Center concessions strike possible during Big Ten tournament, workers say

Wednesday, March 8, 2023
Another United Center workers strike possible during Big 10 tournament
Another United Center workers strike is possible during the 2023 Big Ten tournament as concessions workers continue to negotiate a new contract.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Negotiations are ongoing between the United Center and its concessions workers, who staged a one-day strike before a recent Bulls game and haven't ruled out another during the Big Ten tournament coming up.

"Very often negotiations like this really do require some defining event that creates an end game for the parties," said Bob Bruno, professor of labor and employment relations at the University of Illinois.

The threat of the strike could prompt more fans to consider getting a bite to eat on the way in or out of the Big Ten games set for this weekend. Crews at the United Center are putting up symbols for each of the 14 teams in the Big Ten conference, each school bringing its own crew of fans, and bars and restaurants near the venue are preparing for the anticipated bump in customers.

Concessions workers with the Unite Here Local 1 union picketed before the Sunday Bulls game. They scheduled another negotiating session Tuesday with the United Center concessions operator, and said in a statement, "If talks do not move forward, Compass/Levy employees at the United Center are prepared to take action at any moment including, but not limited to a strike."

The union said for more than two years it has negotiated over healthcare and pension benefits.

"Healthcare issues have been at the core for a very long time of a lot of very serious labor disputes," Bruno said.

A spokesperson for Levy, the concessions operator, said the company has offered a number of incentives in the negotiations, including an average $4-$5 an hour increase in wages and a program that would allow the great majority of employees to qualify for healthcare coverage.

But Levy said the union, which represents thousands of area hospitality workers, wants broader healthcare contributions that will "benefit workers who may never work a shift at the United Center."

The Billy Goat Tavern is the closest sit down bar and restaurant to the United Center, and they are getting ready to grill up plenty of burgers and pour plenty of beer all weekend. With several games a day starting Wednesday, the Near West Side will be a hotbed of activity.

"We have a parking lot so everybody can park and walk and come back and have a drink and burger and go on their way," said Gail Doherty, Billy Goat manager.

Levy said the two sides have already met more than 20 times. Both sides hope to come to an agreement before the weekend.