Sodexo protest does not affect university

While labor disputes between Sodexo and some of its employees have not surfaced on campus like they have in other states, Sodexo employees at the university may have nowhere to turn should trouble hit home.

In recent weeks, employees of Sodexo, the French-based multinational food service company contracted by the university, have incorporated strikes and civil disobedience as a part of the Service Employees International Union’s protest efforts across 10 U.S. states against the company’s alleged intimidation of employees seeking to unionize.

Tanya Aquino, a SEIU representative, said Sodexo has threatened and fired employees who seek to unionize as a means to obtain better pay and benefits. Aquino said that while the protests against the company have become international, so far they have not reached the local level in Fort Worth because SEIU does not currently represent any food service employees in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Sodexo employees on campus are not eligible to receive any benefits from the university because they are not university employees, Director of Employee Relations Shari Barnes wrote in an e-mail. Currently, there are no employee groups at the university represented by a union, but the university would not prevent an employee from joining any organization, Barnes wrote.

The Rev. Angela Kaufman, chair of Staff Assembly, said that while she has not been made aware of any official complaints by Sodexo employees on campus, Staff Assembly serves and supports all staff members at TCU, which includes Sodexo employees. However, because Sodexo employees are contracted by the university and are not university employees, they do not have an appointed representative on Staff Assembly to voice the concerns of Sodexo employees on campus, Kaufman said.

“I don’t know if there’s ever been a conversation about having an appointed representative from Sodexo, but that would be something that would be worth Staff Assembly looking into,” she said.

Monica Zimmer, public relations director for Sodexo, said Sodexo employees around the country receive an average pay of $10.51 an hour, or $12.61 an hour when including company-paid benefits. She said that the company pays about two-thirds of health-insurance premiums and that the company has an excellent record with labor unions.

“We have over 300 collective bargaining agreements with virtually every major union in North America,” Zimmer said.

Claims of employee intimidation by SEIU are “categorically wrong” and part of a “smear campaign” meant to force the company to deal solely with the SEIU to the exclusion of other unions it has collective bargaining agreements with, Zimmer said.

“We respect our employees’ right to unionize or not to unionize if they choose,” Zimmer said.

Aquino denied claims of union infighting and said that Sodexo is attempting to ignore the issues.

“This is about workers’ human rights,” Aquino said. “This is about Sodexo’s business model taking a toll on the middle class and deepening our economic crisis.”