“Our Sodexo supervisors told us that unions are bad, and that we should be grateful just to have jobs when other places are laying off staff.”
— Sodexo housekeeper, Whittier, CA
“We had a mandatory meeting with these two important people, who said that Sodexo is a big family, and warned us that a union is a middle man.” — Sodexo food service worker, Manteca, CA
“A Sodexo manager told me that our free meal benefit would be ‘the first thing to go’ if we formed a union. Last month, they did take away the free meal benefit, and gave us a food allowance of just $5, instead.”
— Sodexo food service worker, Manteca, CA
If you are a workers rights advocate, the words of these workers who are campaigning to raise their families out of poverty by forming a union as part of SEIU United Service Workers West (USWW) likely have a familiar ring. Large corporations regularly use dirty intimidation tactics to interfere with workers’ free choice to form a union.
But considering the scope and influence of their employer, Sodexo, this particular battle against anti-union intimidation is significant.
Sodexo is the 22nd largest employer in the world, a contractor that provides janitorial, security, food services, and other services to hospitals, universities, schools and other industries in more than 80 countries. Sodexo has more than 80,000 employees in the United States alone, and made more than $1 billion in profit in 2009.
Yet Sodexo pays workers in the United States as little as $7.50 an hour, and two-thirds of Sodexo’s non-managerial employees in the United States are not covered by the health insurance policies offered by the company. As a result of these appalling standards, over-burdened city and state budgets must bear the costs for healthcare and assistance for Sodexo workers.
On top of poverty wages and exorbitant costs for healthcare benefits, Sodexo workers in California commonly face health and safety problems, inadequate staffing levels, lack of training and proper equipment, and disrespect. At California hospitals, Sodexo’s low standards threaten public health and safety, as Sodexo’s policy to discipline workers for any absence often forces workers to come to work when they are sick.
Considering that service sector jobs like those at Sodexo are projected to account for 96 percent of all job growth between now and 2018, these low standards have the potential to further devastate our economy and communities.
Fortunately, Sodexo workers across California are beginning to fight back.
Last week, hundreds of cafeteria workers, janitors, and other service workers demonstrated outside hospitals, universities, and office buildings in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Whittier. The workers spoke out against Sodexo’s illegal firings, interrogations, and surveillance of them for uniting to form a union as part of SEIU-USWW. The action in California were amplified by Sodexo workers participating in unfair labor practices strikes, rallies, and marches in more than 10 states across the country.
These actions could have a major impact towards convincing Sodexo to clean up its act.
Perhaps, then, this is not the familiar story of corporate bullying and abuse. Instead, it’s a story of defiance and hope:
“People are upset by the intimidation, but we’re staying strong.”
“I know that Sodexo is just trying to scare us. We have the right to make our own decision, to form a union together. Sodexo can’t fire us for that.”
“We want dignity and respect. It’s time to Clean Up Sodexo!”