Hundreds sign letter to support former J Street employee

More than 400 students, professors, alumni and parents signed a letter this week for the University’s dining service to rehire an employee who was allegedly fired after 25 years.

The pleas, hand-delivered Tuesday afternoon to J Street General Manager Bernadette Thomas, urged Sodexo managers to rehire 51-year-old Rochelle Kelly, who allegedly took many sick days to care for her ill husband and tend to her shoulder following surgery.

She missed several weeks, five employees, including her son, said. The workers said the time off should have been permitted under the Family and Medical Leave Act and within their union contract.

Led by the Progressive Student Union, the campaign comes on the heels of a protest in J Street last month with about a dozen Progressive Student Union members and dining hall workers demanding more hours, more pay and more respect.

“The workers in J Street are part of our community. They legitimately care about us and do their best with that they are given to make our experiences here enjoyable,” Sam Nelson, president of the Progressive Student Union, said. “Members in a community should stand up for each other when they feel someone is wronged.”

The organization also tapped into listservs of the College Democrats, one of the largest campus organizations, and the Food Justice Alliance.

The University declined to provide the Hatchet with a copy of the labor contract. Thomas declined to comment on the decision to fire Kelly, citing privacy concerns. Kelly could not be reached for comment.

“Sodexo respects GWU student’s right to share their opinions. We also understand that there are assumptions being made regarding this matter without the facts. This is a personnel matter and we will not comment,” Thomas said in an email.

Thomas said that both parties would use the contract as a guideline to “evaluate the facts of the situation” and reach a decision.

Allison Burket, who represents GW’s Sodexo employees for the union Unite Here, did not return multiple requests for comment.

The Department of Labor allows workers up to 12 weeks a year to take care of a sick spouse.

“She’s just being her same old self,” Bryant Kelly said of his mother since she was laid off last week. Bryant said he hopes his mother is able to return to work soon.

Kelly’s co-workers have vouched for her, saying that her termination was uncalled for and in violation of their contract.

“No one should be fired for nothing like that,” Darnelle James, a Sodexo employee at J Street, said.

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