J Street workers request better working conditions

Friday, May 2, 4:07 p.m.

A large group of J Street employees signed a petition against Sodexo this March, alleging they have been subject to daily harassment, unfair working conditions and mass layoffs.

Forty workers said in the document that they “dread coming to work,” and that firings have forced them to increase their hours and miss breaks. It was sent to the Hotel and Restaurant Local 25 union, which represents service workers in the District.

Josh Niederman, a union representative from Unite HERE Local 25, said Sodexo has laid off 80 employees, and demoted four others from fulltime to part time. He said Sodexo has been unresponsive to the concerns of J Street workers, despite numerous attempts by the union to negotiate with the food service company.

“With massive layoffs they don’t have enough people to do the work,” Niederman said.

He added that Sodexo has increasingly hired non-union workers to replace to union members at Wendy’s, Yaya’s Asian Kitchen and the WOW Wingery.

Sodexo signed a contract with the union regarding GW dining in 2006. It stipulates that all newly hired workers must apply to be in the union within 30 days.

“There have been layoffs and changes in schedules,” Sodexo spokesperson Monica Zimmer wrote in an e-mail. “All layoffs and changes in schedules have been in accordance with the union contract.”

The University contracted Sodexo two years ago to replace Aramark as the food service provider at the Marvin Center location. Beginning this fall, underclassmen were required to spend a certain amount of their Colonial Cash at the establishment.

University spokesperson Tracy Schario wrote in an e-mail that “the University is not involved in Sodexho’s labor discussions” and referred further comment to Sodexo.

Employees working at the dining venue echoed sentiments that working conditions have deteriorated.

“This is a very unfair working environment,” said Lolita Mickle, a J Street employee. “There are people that have been working here for 20 and 30 years and it’s never been this bad.”

Nancy Hinckle, another employee, said she has been discounted hours in her payroll.

“They hire non-union employees at Wendy’s and other places so they don’t have to pay them as much,” Hinckle said. “This is almost like going back to the days of slavery.”

The “Bad Taste” Petition also states that Sam Ramos, Sodexo director of operations at GW, verbally abuses and harasses workers. Ramos had not responded to requests for comment as of Friday afternoon.

The Progressive Student Union, a student organization devoted to workers’ rights, hopes to publicize these problems.

“As the real financial stakeholders in the University, we as students want to challenge the University to be a better university and take care of all members of the community,” said PSU president Matt Brokman, a senior.

“(The whole situation) hurts the workers, it hurts us as students, and GW as a responsible employer shouldn’t allow it either,” Brokman said.

The union contract expires on July 31. Zimmer, the Sodexo spokesperson, said the company will soon enter into talks to negotiate a new one.

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