The battle continues: More than 100 Sodexo employees go on strike, management says workers claims are unfounded

by   Posted on April 19th, 2010 in Uncategorized

By Kevin Loker, C2M Executive Editor

With support from the Service Employees International Union, over 70 food service workers, claiming dissatisfaction with wages, working conditions and treatment from management, marched through George Mason University’s North Plaza Thursday, continuing a recent push to unionize.

Beginning at 6 a.m., the on-campus Sodexo workers went on strike, as part of a ‘national week of action’ against food giant Sodexo, according to Bianca Agustin, a representative for the SEIU. Throughout the day the strike grew to include over 100 employees.

According to Agustin, seven states have filed unfair labor practice charges against Sodexo and their management, who workers claim harass and intimidate them on the job and will not allow them to join a union.

“We want to be able to have a future here,” said Angelica Hernandez, who works at Southside.

According to Hernandez and 27-year Sodexo employee Ana Urias, the workers decided to go on strike to demand better benefits, salaries and working conditions.

“We want to be able to choose to have a union so we can defend our rights,” said Urias, who works at Jazzman’s in the Johnson Center.

Around 1 p.m., the workers began marching to campus, where they gathered at the North Plaza with signs, that read “Sodexo Unfair, Clean up Sodexo.”

A day before the strike, workers marched to the Sodexo offices located under Southside to deliver a petition with about 70 signatures to Sodexo’s Resident District Manager Denise Ammaccapane. The number of names on the petition has since grown to 110, according to Matt Painter, an assistant communications director with SEIU and the Clean Up Sodexo project.

Ammaccapane said she couldn’t accept the petition directly due to corporate policy and says when she asked for a name of somebody to get back to, nobody provided one. According to Ammaccapane, none of the claims workers were making against Sodexo had been previously brought to her attention, though workers claim they had e-mailed Ammaccapane to set up a time to meet.

Employee opinion appears divided. The majority of the 455 on-campus employees have not signed the petition, and many showed up to work or willingly filled in for the empty shifts according to Ammaccapane.

Most dining locations remained open for service Thursday. Jazzman’s, located in the School of Art and is run by one employee, did not open for service. Taco Bell closed early afternoon, and Freshens closed about an hour early.

Employees returned to work on Friday. At the march, Herrera said that the fight would continue.

After the Strike: A Letter, A Flier and Debate
Student Government’s Administrative Subcommittee on Dining Services released a letter to Student Media, University Relations and university administrators late Thursday night condemning the ‘false claims and accusations’ leveled against Sodexo and Mason Dining by the SEIU.

“Some dining employees that have teamed up with the SEIU have accused dining administrators, such as Resident District Manager Denise Ammaccapane, of not listening or responding to their concerns about low wages, a lack of hours, and insufficient benefits,” the letter reads. “In reality, the workers have never contacted dining administrators to seek help on such matters.”

The letter, which was published on Connect2Mason, goes on to speak of harassment not by dining management, as the SEIU has previously claimed, but by employees in favor of unionization to other workers with differing opinions.

“This has made for a hostile work environment,” it reads. In reference to Wednesday’s events in which over 70 protesters marched into dining offices underneath Southside, the letter argues that students have been left feeling uneasy as well, through ‘scare tactics and intimidation’ at the hands of SEIU.

The letter sparked online debate. Editorial staff posted a student response from Robert Gehl, a cultural studies doctoral candidate at the university, who argued against the committee’s representation of the student body.

“Take a deep breath and count the ways in which your lack of Jazzman’s coffee for a few hours on a weekday compares to a family’s lack of health care and benefits,” it reads.

On Friday, a day after the strike, piles of blue fliers with an altered image of the Service Employees International Union’s logo stating ‘SEIU Lies’ appeared in the Johnson Center and across campus.

The flier cites authorship ‘directly’ from Sodexo hourly workers who maintain that the ‘vast majority of Mason Dining Workers do not support the SEIU or their lies about management.’

“We are not managers and we do not officially speak for Sodexo,” it reads, after outlining similar claims as the dining committee’s letter. “We can only speak for ourselves, hourly workers on campus, and we will not be silent in the face of SEIU aggression any longer.”

Broadside Editor-in-Chief Emily Sharrer contributed to this report.

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