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Students, cafeteria workers join to fight Sodexo

Published Apr 17, 2010 8:28 AM

Across the U.S., in at least 10 states, food service workers employed by the giant multinational corporation Sodexo are actively fighting to win union rights and recognition. In the metropolitan Atlanta area, students at five campuses — including Emory University, Georgia Tech and Morehouse College — have joined together to combat attempts by company management and university officials to threaten and intimidate the workers.

April 9 protest aims to pressure Emory’s
administration to implement labor code.
Photo: Sopha Teona

For example, on Feb. 17 the bosses brought two union-busting lawyers onto the Emory campus to give anti-union Powerpoint presentations to all food service workers, who were required to attend. This kind of mandatory meeting is a common tactic practiced by union-busting corporations. A typical slide was headed “Top 10 Reasons Why You Might Not Want to Join A Union.”

But things didn’t go as the union busters planned.

At noon, a student action in an Emory dining hall erupted to protest the Powerpoint presentations, effectively halting them after they’d been shown to only half of the 220 workers employed by Sodexo.

Similarly, when on March 8 the same two lawyers arrived on Tulane University’s campus to give an identical anti-union presentation to the Sodexo food service workers there, students camped out in front of the meeting room to distribute fact sheets that countered the lies and myths regarding unions. Workers were seen reading the pro-union pamphlets throughout the Powerpoint presentations.

The student supporters at Emory are challenging the university administration’s supposed “neutrality.” They point out that by sub-contracting various areas of work like cafeteria services to private entities that pay low wages and offer no benefits, universities trim their costs while boosting the subcontractor’s profits.

Emory claims that Sodexo food service workers are not part of the university community although they have some of the most contact with students. Also, the official response to reports of harassment, discrimination and any other unfair labor practice is that these matters are not the university’s responsibility but an issue between the workers and Sodexo management. (tinyurl.com/y7nq6d3)

Students at Emory aren’t buying that argument.

On April 9, a demonstration was held on Emory’s campus to pressure the administration into implementing a Labor Code of Conduct to enforce the rights of subcontracted workers to organize if they so choose. E-mail blasts and phone calls are being sent continuously to the university president, provost and head of campus life demanding that they implement the code.

Over 60 students, workers and community members entered the administration building to demand that the code be implemented. They filled the hallway outside the president’s office. Students later marched through the university cafeteria to show support for the workers.

The workers, mostly Black women, smiled broadly, waved and clapped as the students with their pro-worker, pro-union signs weaved their way through the food line.

As a result of this action, a meeting with the university president has been set to discuss the issue.

Campuses will be escalating campaigns leading up to the end of the school year. The week of April 12 will be a nationally coordinated week of action including anything from leafleting to sit-ins and barricades.

Roger Sikes, a graduate student in Public Health at Emory, is a leading member of the effort to support the Sodexo workers’ union drive.