As many members of the McDaniel community have heard, there have been efforts among Sodexo workers on campus to join a workers union. These efforts culminated in the Nov. 5 vote on the issue, which voted in favor of unionization 42-3.
According to Caroline Unger, a senior who has been employed by Sodexo since her freshman year, the prospect of unionization first came up in conversation around March of 2013.
Unger asserts, “I think all workers have their own reasons for joining the union.”
Nonetheless, she gave some general reasons. First, she says, workers feel that they are underpaid for the work that they do, along with a general lack of sufficient material reward. Many workers earn minimum wage, $8.25/hour, with little chance for advancement. Additionally, Unger asserts that Sodexo has cut certain supervisor positions, which reduced wages among certain longtime employees.
Unger states, “A lot of people felt targeted and just disrespected that they would give this much to a company and then have a ton of their pay curbed.”
Moreover, Unger outlines an issue with understaffing. She states, “…people are expected to do two or three jobs simultaneously, but get one wage.” Part of this issue is a high rate of labor turnover, especially in the dish room. On this, Unger says, “whenever we hire workers, a lot of the times, they don’t stay because of the conditions at work.”
Upon being asked, a group of Sodexo workers concluded that they are waiting to see what happens; however, a worker from this group later said that there is some concern about repercussions.
Not all workers were so shy. Shawn Ellis, a cook in Glar, asserts that his main goals are “more pay and more help.” He cited many issues with understaffing. In fact, a temp assisting him on Monday of this week has already left the job. He claims that he’s supporting the union rather than searching for another job because otherwise “…everyone else is going to be dealing with the same issues.”
Moreover, Manuel Gonzales, who completes a variety of tasks in Glar, claimed that understaffing, among other issues, like a lack of raises, led him to support unionization. He notes that he was unfamiliar with unions and scared to support it for awhile, but after research and assistance from colleagues, he joined the effort. On Sodexo, he says, “I’m not saying [Sodexo] is bad, they’re just stubborn.” He wants to stay with his job thanks to certain supportive leaders within Sodexo, such as Gregory (“Lucky”) Charms, who works with employees beyond just managing them. Gonzales says, “If Lucky quits, I quit.”
Rita Webster, the General Manager of Food Services at McDaniel states, “Sodexo respects the rights of our employees to unionize or not to unionize, as they choose.” Additionally, Webster claims that, when workers have unionized, Sodexo has “…bargained in good faith with the purpose of reaching an agreement in a timely manner, which is what we will now do at McDaniel College.”
Unger claims “…when we went public, Sodexo said they were going neutral.” From Unger’s knowledge, this is what has been occurring. She also claims “on the whole, Sodexo was neutral throughout the campaign.”
Only about three weeks passed between the unionization campaign going public and the actual vote. For the vote, says Unger, “We had someone from the National Labor Board come in, set up an election booth, and workers could vote during their break.”
The workers are joining Unite Here, a hospitality workers union. Unger states that Unite Here stuck out to her due to its commitment to social justice beyond simply improving material rewards for workers.
The next step in the process, says Unger, is negotiations. Once workers and bosses negotiate a contract, workers will vote on it. Workers are negotiating with a National Labor Relations representative from Sodexo. They will not start paying union dues until the contract is voted on.