New student group to Merten: Fire Sodexo
By Matt Snyder
A new student group who says they back the campus dining services workers employed by dining contractor Sodexo hand-delivered a message Thursday to university Pres. Alan Merten asking for the administration to fire Sodexo.
They call on Merten to hire a new company who will provide a living wage and better conditions. The GMU Students for Workers Rights joined some workers in accusations that employees work in unsafe conditions and alleged cuts, burns, and back injuries as a result.
Merten was not in and the students’ letter was received instead by presidential operations manager Sharon Cullen. She had no comment.
Sporting signs and stickers like “No justice/ No pizza,” “Our Workers Deserve Fair Wages,” and “Shame on Sodexo,” about 15 student protestors and five workers walked the letter to Mason Hall and then another petition to Sodexo management at Southside.
The petition from workers included pictures of alleged work-related injuries, including a deep cut to one finger and a worker wearing a back brace. The petition and photos were received by Sodexo Resident District Manager Denise Ammaccapane, who promised to forward it to corporate management.
Most of the student protestors at Southside were closed out of Sodexo’s offices when they tried to enter the limited office space. Several students held their signs against the glass windows of the doorway area, and Students for Workers Rights leader Jason Von Kundra said he was displeased with how their group was separated and felt those outside the office couldn’t express their views.
Ammaccapane was told workers with the petition were also shut out, so she permitted several students in the office to change places with workers who wanted to present their grievances. She limited them to four people at once in her smaller personal office.
Ana Urias, a 27-year Sodexo employee who works at Jazzman’s in the Johnson Center, presented the petition and photographs of injuires to Ammaccapane.
Ammaccapane said she has signed statements from each employee proving they have been trained, and that training is done in English, Spanish, and Chinese. Von Kundra has said workers dispute that claim.
Sodexo assistant controller Charles Olson told some of the gathered students that Sodexo pays fair and comparable wages and that most worker injuries occur because procedures aren’t followed – chain mesh gloves are not used for handling knives and stools are not used for reaching high places, for instance. Those claims, too, are disputed by some workers, Von Kundra said.
Claims and counter-claims between members of management and workers have been prevalent throughout the debate. Workers will share their problems with Sodexo to the student body at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in the Johnson Center Cinema, an event that the Service Employees International Union has helped put on, said Van Kundra.
Talking to students outside South Side offices, Retail Operations Director Bill Fry suggested some of the workers were being coached on what to tell students by the SEIU, who have made efforts to organize workers and helped put together the protest in April.
When some in Sodexo’s management expressed their displeasure with SEIU, Von Kundra answered complaints of their involvement by saying he only represents a student organization. The Students for Workers Rights are not affiliated with the SEIU, but when Von Kundra was asked if the SEIU had contacted them or nudged them to act, he made no comment.
The SEIU had made calls to alert the College Democrats to the worker protest in April.
Many Students for Workers Rights members were also members of other left-leaning campus organizations, including the College Democrats. Last April, the College Democrats backed workers in a formal letter when over 70 workers protested and went on strike against Sodexo.
Von Kundra said the protest was what drew the attention of so many students on campus and what sparked their new student group.