Food Services Workers at Binghamton U. Deserve More than Poverty WagesPosted: March 28, 2016
By Rafael Mota
Sodexo is currently in negotiation with it employees in Binghamton University and engaging in all manner of deceit and malice to stall negotiations, strong-arm the process and subvert collective bargaining rights. Workers are asking for basic rights like affordable health care and a living wage increase. Yet, the company refuses to consider any of their proposals or provide alternative solutions that considers these basic needs. Instead, it offers vagaries and false handwringing claiming a “perfect storm” of events including the minimum wage hike to skirt responsibility for its workers.
Sodexo has a 10 year contract with the University for $350 million and generates a global revenue of $23 billion annually. Sodexo’s success is no doubt the product of its employees’ dedication, hard work and outstanding service. They perform this service consistently and under exacting conditions with no recognition. It is the thousands of thankless and unseen tasks Sodexo employees take on that “support[s] and improve[s] quality of life for students, faculty and staff” on our campus. They stock the food pantries and prepare the meals, performing the actual “work done in fighting hunger throughout the Binghamton and Southern Tier Region”.
Yet, the majority of Sodexo workers earn an average $12,000 a year. Among all of the State Universities in the region Sodexo employees are the lowest paid food service workers. In addition to paltry wages, Sodexo engages in all manner of wage manipulation and theft. It has increased the amount employees pay for health insurance and wishes to manipulate the minimum wage hike to compress wages and standardize low wages across all job classifications. These tactics force Sodexo workers to rely on public assistance to provide for their families, even though the majority work full time. They belie the claim that Sodexo is committed to “the hard-working men and women who live and work in the Binghamton community.” Sodexo’s policies reveal a different picture of a company that relies on government assistance to subsidize poverty wages and shoulder its responsibility for employees onto the community.
Sodexo’s extraordinary success seems to depend on exploiting its workers made possible by tax dollars to subsidize poverty wages and shoulder the responsibility the company owes its employees. These tactics demonstrate a lack of regard not only for its employees but to the university, as well. Binghamton University has a noble mission to enrich the lives of people in the region and state. This task demands that it partners with business that takes social responsibility seriously and reinvests in the community.
We must not forget that Sodexo employees support working families. They prepare meals and make the University a home for the students who attend it. Many of them have worked at the university for years with only nominal raises, as little as 3%. As a community we should be concerned that Sodexo employees benefit from the contract the company signed with the University. This is a matter of social responsibility. Our financial contributions to the University through taxes and tuition should not support exploitation.
The Workers, United Will Never be Defeated!
On March 8, 2016, hundreds of Binghamton University Students and Sodexo Workers rallied together in an incredible display of solidarity. They marched together to demand better wages, better health benefits, a 401K plan (currently the workers do not have any retirement program) and incentives for long-time and more skilled workers. Sodexo workers and students (that is to say, current and future workers) carried signs demanding “Justice 4 Sodexo Workers” and “Stenger [loves] Sodexo,” the later in reference the university’s cozy relationship with the huge multinational corporation.
Chants rang out across campus: “BU Students what do you say? Fair work for a fair wage! Sodexo workers what do you say? Fair work for a fair wage!” and “Hey Sodexo you’re no good, treat your workers like you should.” In recent weeks, students from across campus have flocked to the worker’s cause, supporting their friends, family members, and co-workers (some 200 plus un-unionized workers work for Sodexo on campus) in innumerable ways.
During the rally, Sodexo workers spoke of the hardships they face due to low wages and expressed their commitment to students. In turn, students demanded the university administration step up to support the workers in their bid for a better contract and recounted how Sodexo workers support them emotionally and physically.
So far, the United University Professions (UUP)—the professors union–, the Graduate Student Employees Union (GSEU), the Graduate Student Organization (GSO), and the undergraduate Student Congress all have passed resolutions supporting the workers bid for a fair contract. Thanks to the intense pressure on BU administration, the next day BU President Harvey Stenger—who the day before reiterated the university’s official “neutrality” position—signed a petition calling for better wages and benefits for Sodexo workers. The petition currently has several hundred signatures. At the end of the rally workers and students celebrated by vowing to continue the fight until Sodexo workers prevail.