Jamie O’Neal has worked at the United Center for more than three decades, managing the concession stands at the home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks.

In the offseason, O’Neal, 60, works out at Wrigley Field. She doesn’t qualify for health insurance from her employer, Levi’s, a Chicago-based food service provider. Being on her feet most of the time, O’Neal struggled with a foot problem that she didn’t get treated for five years because she didn’t have insurance.

“It got progressively worse, causing me more surgeries and more pain and more problems,” said O’Neill, who now pays for private insurance. “Having foot problems is a huge burden on our feet to work with.”

O’Neill is one of about 650 concessions, food and beverage workers at the United Center who will vote Tuesday to strike amid union contract negotiations with Levi’s.

Employees work in positions including food preparation and concessions, bartending and dishwashing during Bulls and Blackhawks games and other United Center events such as Disney on Ice. Last month, workers filed multiple complaints with city, state and federal agencies alleging violations of a variety of labor laws by Levy at the United Center. Those complaints are being investigated.

United Center employees have been working without a contract since the collective bargaining agreement expired in September, according to union representatives at Unite Here Local 1. Workers told the Tribune that access to health insurance was top of mind as the strike vote draws closer, describing a system in which some workers receive insurance sporadically and others do not get it at all.

Dan Abraham, organizing director for Unite Here Local 1, described access to health insurance as a complex system, in which a group of about 150 employees who work the most hours each year are billed for months based on the number of hours. Health insurance is provided for the duration. He has worked. Employees say meeting the minimum number of hours required can be difficult.

Abrahams said that levee workers like O’Neal cannot combine hours worked at the United Center with hours worked at other locations, including Wrigley Field, to qualify for insurance. But workers employed by the levy at Navy Pier have been able to club together hours worked at venues such as conventions or hotels to qualify for insurance, he said. United Center employees said they are demanding equal access to benefits available to others employed by Levy.

Founded in 1978, Levi’s provides food and beverage at sports and entertainment venues across the country, including the United Center and Wrigley and Guaranteed Rate areas. The company has a minority interest in the Boca Restaurant Group, which includes such well-known Chicago restaurants as Girl & the Goat and GT Prime.

Levy did not answer questions about employees’ access to health insurance.

“We value our team members and remain committed to the bargaining process with Unite Here Local 1,” the company said in a statement.

On the subject of wages, Levy said “During the pandemic, the union and Levy have mutually agreed to expand the current agreement, which also includes wages. Negotiations have resumed and we are hopeful that we will reach a fair agreement.

Abrahams said that if a majority of workers voted to strike, the work stoppage could begin any time after the vote. In a statement, Levy said there would be “plans” to continue selling food and beverages during events at the United Center in the event of a strike, but gave no details.

The Bulls are scheduled to square off against the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday, with more games to follow next week. The United Center is also scheduled to host Blackhawks games, a concert honoring former Secretary of State Jesse White, and performances by SZA and Adam Sandler in the coming weeks.

In addition to better access to health insurance, United Center workers are demanding higher wages. Abrahams said that he has not received any hike since January 2020 except the necessary increase in the minimum wage.

Claudia Trujillo has worked at the United Center for 22 years and makes $15.40 an hour – Chicago’s minimum wage – preparing salads for people who watch games from United Center suites.

Trujillo now has health insurance, but her access to benefits is spotty, she said: Sometimes she has insurance for periods of months, and sometimes she doesn’t.

“It is because of this that we are in a fight to be treated with equality,” she said in Spanish. “Insurance, and other benefits that other workers have.”

In December, United Center’s Levee employees filed multiple complaints alleging labor law violations with the city’s Office of Labor Standards, the state Department of Labor, and the National Labor Relations Board. They alleged that four dishwashers at the United Center worked for 35 straight days in violation of the state’s One Day Rest in Seven Act.

Levy employees and Unite Here also allege violations of the city’s Fair Workweek ordinance, claiming that Levy changed workers’ schedules without proper notice, and retaliating against union workers and talking about terms of employment. Charged with monitoring employees.

A spokeswoman for the labor agencies confirmed the complaints were under investigation.

“We are currently responding to those claims, as we take all complaints very seriously,” Levy said in a statement. “The well-being of our team members and continued compliance with the law is our top priority.”

United Center did not respond to questions about contingency plans should workers strike. In a statement, it said the United Center “keeps very strong ties with a number of service and trade unions.”

“We are following this matter closely, and we are in ongoing dialogue with our contractor as it relates to this issue,” the United Center said.

O’Neill said he was prepared to remain on strike “as long as our voices are heard.”

“That’s why we’re having this strike vote,” she said. “Because we want to be heard.”

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