J Street union fights Sodexo over firings

A local union representing employees of J Street is in legal mediations with Sodexo – the company that runs dining services at GW – over allegations that Sodexo laid off union workers under false pretenses.

It is the second grievance filed in the past year, both of which concern the subcontracting of the WOW Wingery restaurant in the Hippodrome to a non-union company. At the time, Sodexo used this as a reason for cutting a portion of the union jobs at the restaurant.

In the most recent complaint, members of the workers’ union, Unite Here Local 25, said the restaurant was never subcontracted and is still being run by Sodexo.

The union is seeking the reinstatement and salary compensation of workers that were fired as a result of the alleged subcontracting.

The grievance was brought to arbitration on Oct. 10, and a decision will be released in the next 30 to 60 days. Negotiation on the original grievance has not yet been scheduled.

Last winter, after WOW was supposed to have been subcontracted, union shop steward Muriel Patterson, a Sodexo employee who serves as a link between the union and the company, looked into WOW and its management.

Patterson said the evidence found suggested WOW was still being run by Sodexo despite their claims of subcontracting the restaurant, said Richard Bianco, an attorney for the union.

“She spoke with some folks who worked up there and it seemed that Sodexo managers were still in charge of the location, even though it had allegedly been subcontracted,” Bianco said, adding that Sodexo would not reveal the name of the subcontracted company.

He said the most obvious proof that Sodexo is still managing the restaurant is that WOW’s basic business license, given to restaurants by the city, is issued to Sodexo. The union also said the restaurant’s alcoholic beverage manager’s license was in the name of a Sodexo manager.

The union’s first grievance was filed in fall 2007, stating that Sodexo’s plan to subcontract the restaurant was a violation of the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the company.

“In the fall of ’07, a number of union employees working for Sodexo were laid off as a result of this alleged subcontracting of WOW,” Bianco said. “That grievance was filed, and that grievance is still pending.”

“When you have two grievances that are filed separately, it’s tough to predict when each will be heard,” Bianco said. “And in any case, up until the moment that it gets decided, it’s always possible that there’ll be a settlement.”

Sodexo issued a statement acknowledging the grievance.

“Sodexo is committed to following the process for resolving grievances that is provided in our contract,” wrote Monica Zimmer, Sodexo’s director of public relations, in an e-mail. “We are going through this process now and look forward to resolving these matters.”

Nancy Haaga, GW’s director of auxiliary services who oversees Sodexo operations for the University, did not respond to a request for comment.

This is not the first dispute between J Street employees and Sodexo. The Hatchet previously reported that last March, 40 employees signed a “bad taste” petition against Sodexo, claiming that they were overworked and verbally harassed by Sodexo’s director of operations at GW.

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