Sodexo workers move to unionize

A+person+wears+a+sticker+on+their+chest+which+reads+Students+%28heart%29+dining+staff%2C+Union+Yes%21

Ava Acharya

Photo illustration of a student wearing a sticker supporting Sodexo workers unionizing on campus. Sodexo workers have formed a union on campus, and student organizers have shown ample support for the unionization efforts.

Maria DiFelice, Asst News Editor

Editors Note: Comments from Loyola’s administration were received after this article was published, both in print and digitally. Comments from Patricia Murret, Loyola’s Associate Director of Public Affairs, were added after the fact. 

Samantha Henry said that they feel like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders, trying to work enough to survive. Henry has been working for Sodexo at Loyola since 2017 and is the dining room lead in the university dining hall, the Orleans Room. Henry said that, in the five years that they have worked for the Sodexo at Loyola, they have only gotten a $1.95 raise and, with the rising cost of life, Henry is now working another job on their days off to make ends meet.

When Henry picks up extra work on the weekends, they said it’s “just for me to have some (money) … not extra money but to have money to do what I want to do outside of what I need to do.”

Henry said that they need better working conditions on campus, including more staffing to make their job better. Henry added that they have difficulty completing their assigned job because they have to fill other positions that are left open because of short staffing. Henry has since decided to unionize in order to address these issues.

Jacqueline Harrison said she has been working at Sodexo at Loyola for ten plus years and is now a team lead. She said she is in support of a union because she wants to see a change in pay and the way everyone is treated. Harrison said that the newly hired people are starting at a rate of pay that is close to the people like her who have been working for 10 plus years. She is also in support because of permanent healthcare. Harrison explained how Sodexo is a seasonal job making it hard to pay for healthcare during the off season in the summertime. She explained how some people don’t have the money to be able to pay for their health care in the summertime and go without it for that period of time.

“Some people have two jobs… in order to make ends meet in some kind of way to pay for medical and medical insurance,” she said.

In Loyola’s 2019 tax form they stated that they paid Sodexo $8,432,021.

UNITE HERE!, is an organization that helps workers for companies such as Sodexo unionize, and has been helping Sodexo workers on Loyola’s campus, like Henry, advocate for fair treatment in their work environment. Everett Hackett, a researcher with UNITE HERE!, said that their goal is to help workers, like the ones at Sodexo, unionize. According to Hackett, the organization has already helped unionize those working at William and Mary University in Virginia, Clark University in Massachusetts, and the Sisters of Maryknoll in New York.

“Cafeteria workers at a majority of Jesuit campuses across the country have a union – like at Georgetown, USF, and U Seattle. As union workers, they collectively bargain for
benefits like affordable or free healthcare, pensions, higher wages, and more,” Hackett said.

According to Hackett, a committee of worker leaders have been working quietly with Sodexo workers since the beginning of the school year, which helped the workers publicly come out in support of the union.

Since Loyola’s Sodexo workers union has gone public, members of the community have begun to wear pins and stickers in support of unionization efforts.

According to Rodger White, an associate professor of the political science department and former union leader, it is important that students show their support for these unionization efforts, because the entire process is easier with more support.

He said that these unionization efforts show that Sodexo workers do not feel that they are being treated with due respect and dignity.

“They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect by all of us,” White said.

Many students, including Natallie Butler, a senior sociology major, agree that Sodexo workers deserve more respect. Butler said that she has been in support of the union for a couple of weeks. If it weren’t for the Sodexo workers, Butler said, Loyola would not be the community it is.

“They’re like home away from home. They’re my community. I think you know, they take care of us,” Butler said. “I’m just here to be an aid to them and I think that they don’t get the best hours and pay and everything in between.”

Katheryn Aultman’Moore, a senior philosophy pre-law student and former campus Sodexo employee at Starbucks, said that she is also in full support for the unionization of campus food service workers. Aultman’Moore said that she knows Sodexo workers who have had their same jobs for over 20 years and only make $13.75 per hour. She also added that Loyola’s campus Starbucks only pays $12 per hour, while the starting pay at other Starbucks in the New Orleans area is closer to $15 an hour.

According to both Butler and Aultman’Moore, Loyola officials have not been helpful in this process and have discouraged students from getting involved.

Loyola didn’t immediately respond to multiple calls from a reporter at The Maroon. Patricia Murret, Loyola’s Associate Director of Public Affairs, later clarified that the university does not hold an official position on Sodexo workers movement to unionize and neither encourages nor discourages students from participating in the effort.

“You have to be paying people like a living wage even though I know it’s more than the minimum federal wage,” Aultman’moore said.

Rob Heidingsfelder, director of Loyola’s Sodexo operations, said he does not know if he is in support of the union because he doesn’t know much about it. He also said that he does not know what is going on with the greater unionizing efforts because most of the work that is being done is done on a corporate level and not on a local level.

According to Heidingsfelder, this situation is out of his control, but he said that the business on campus will continue to operate normally one way or another.

“On that end is what they do on that end, but it doesn’t really affect, you know, my position here,” Heidingsfelder said. “We still operate, you know, we still open it. We still close.”