Sodexo, a multinational food services corporation based in Paris, France, is subcontracted by Colgate University to run Colgate Dining Services. Recently, Sodexo announced a plan to increase its workers’ wages by 25 cents an hour, and as a result of this raise, the company plans to stop providing health care.
As a result of this proposal, resounding protests rose up from the workers, who do not feel as if they are being paid an acceptable amount to begin with. Currently, negotiations between Sodexo, Colgate and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) are transpiring in order to resolve the tension between the parties.
While the University hires most Colgate staff directly, those who work in Frank Dining Hall, the O’Connor Campus Center (the COOP), Hieber Café and the Edge Café are paid and acquire health insurance through Sodexo. Most of these workers live in Hamilton or nearby towns, and working in the dining halls is their main source of income.
They work through the SEIU Local 200 United, a union that provides a voice for working families in Upstate New York. The main problem that the union workers are facing is the possible detraction in – or abolishment of – health insurance.
One worker said that she was being paid barely over nine dollars an hour, and even with a pay increase, she would not be able to afford her own health care. Another worker explained that he had gone through surgery a few month ago that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and without health insurance he would not have been able to afford the surgery.
These workers said that they felt they were being treated unfairly, for they are the ones who interact and form relationships with the community. A couple of the workers said that the reason they continue to work for Sodexo is because of the friendships they form with the students. As a result, they began to hand out petition forms to students, asking for help to get Sodexo to pay attention to their requests.
Many students decided to get involved in helping Sodexo workers get the treatment they feel they deserve. Students passed petitions around, getting signatures from most sports teams and other groups. Sophomore Class Council Secretary Hennie Cabuhay started an event on Facebook to wear purple on January 23, 2015 in support of the workers.
By wearing purple, the class council and workers hoped to spread awareness throughout the campus on what was happening within Colgate’s dining halls.
“Since a majority of [the sophomore class] still eat at Frank and the Coop, and we’ve known a lot of the workers over a year now, we felt we had some voice in how they would be treated,” Cabuhay said.
Sodexo General Manager George Murray was unwilling to make a statement on the negotiations due to the fragility of the situation at hand. He said in an email that Colgate Labor Negotiations are being taken seriously by Sodexo.
“[Sodexo] is fully committed to reaching an agreement with the Union (SEIU) that continues to provide its employees at Colgate University with fair and competitive compensation and benefits,” Murray said.