Sodexo workers claim racism: War of words heats up as battle continues

by   Posted on April 26th, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Ethan Vaughan, Asst. News Editor

Accusations continue to fly between Service Employees International Union (SEIU) supporters and Mason Dining management, with both sides claiming the use of intimidation by the other and one union organizer alleging racism from Sodexo.

“Here, a big part of it is racial discrimination,” SEIU organizer Amaya Henry said Friday. “Sodexo has a history of racial discrimination. The mistreatment comes in varying degrees. It depends on if someone is from another country and doesn’t know their rights. At the top of the chain are the student workers. No one would dare abuse them, because they’re educated and they know their rights. Below them are Asian and African-American workers, and last are Hispanics.”

The assertion comes a month after Sodexo, the international food services and facilities management company, was ranked first on DiversityInc’s Top 50 Companies for Diversity. The company is currently receiving such criticism as Henry’s on a wider scale as a part of SEIU’s nationwide “Clean Up Sodexo” project. George Mason University’s on-campus Sodexo management, had not received any such criticism, at least publicly, until now.

Union supporters, including Henry, claimed Friday that two Hispanic workers, Elizabeth Blas Falcon and Marta Zelaya, were denied necessary medical treatment for workplace accidents. They also said that employees were being monitored and spied on.

“Management has increased security,” Henry said. “All of a sudden managers are sitting with [the workers] at lunch. [The workers] can’t communicate the way they used to be able to. That is not okay. That is intimidation.”

Before and after shifts last Friday, several pro-union workers handed out fliers to passing students that said they thanked them for their support.

During a Broadside interview with SEIU organizer Fabricio Herrera outside the Johnson Center, where many workers were handing out the fliers, Retail Operations Director Bill Fry took a seat on a bench about 50 feet away from Herrera and a Sodexo worker and looked at them repeatedly while talking on his cell phone.

“This is illegal,” Herrera said. “They think workers don’t know their rights. This happens all the time. They follow workers with cameras.”
Fry did not have any visible surveillance equipment with him at the time, and when approached by a Broadside reporter, he said that he was there “because it’s a nice day.”

“I’ve been cooped up inside since 8 a.m.,” said Fry. “I came out to enjoy the sun and hear some music.” A giant Coke bus was on the North Plaza on April 23 for an Earth Day-related recycling event, and music was being played.

Management and workers opposed to SEIU claimed that the intimidation is, in fact, coming from the union and its supporters.

“Unionization isn’t really the issue,” Dining Services Assistant Controller Charles Olson said. “Unionization is a side issue to SEIU’s tactics. Those who don’t want to unionize are ostracized.”

Others agreed, saying that they supported workers’ right to unionize but opposed the means by which unionization was being pursued.

“[On the day of the protest, the pro-union people] were outside our loading dock and they would not let people in,” said Rose Peterson, a freshman religious studies major who works for Sodexo full-time. “They told people that work was canceled, and when people proceeded to keep walking, they physically stopped them. Managers had to go outside so that people could come in.”

Two Chinese workers, one male and one female, who wished to remain anonymous, said that on the day of the strike they were taken on a three-hour car ride by pro-union employees who wanted to prevent them from going to work.

“When we were coming into work, we were stopped by co-workers,” the female said. “They were two Hispanic women. They told us, ‘Today, everyone is off and we’re going to have to go to a meeting.’

“We got in the car. We stopped somewhere on campus, and then they took us to a shopping center. We’re unfamiliar with the area and we didn’t know where we were. After we left the shopping center, we went to Arlington. We went into a building. When we saw that there were no managers, we stayed for a few minutes, and then we came out.”

The female worker arranged to have her daughter pick the pair up and return them to George Mason University.

Herrera acknowledged a meeting for workers at an SEIU office in Arlington the day of the strike but denied tricking or coercing anyone into attendance.

“There were two Asian workers there, and at one point we didn’t see them anymore,” he said. “We don’t know how they got there. We told people that if they didn’t want to be there, they should go back to work. No one was forced to be there.”

Sodexo Resident District Manager Denise Ammaccapane said that confusion on both sides could have been responsible for the incident, noting that neither of the Chinese workers had a good grasp of English.

“There is no legal action being taken,” Ammaccapane said.

SEIU organizers plan to continue their campaign for unionization throughout the remainder of the school year.



Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

CAPTCHA
*