Sodexo workers see new contract after threatening to strike

Media Credit: Sam Johnson | Hatchet Photographer

Negotiations between Sodexo and Unite Here, the labor union which Sodexo workers belong to, resulted in a new contract with a 45 cent per hour wage increase and modified break time procedures. Some J-Street workers say that morale is still low among employees dispite the new contract, citing slashed hours and disputes with management.

After threatening to protest last week, Sodexo workers on campus got what they wanted: free bathroom breaks.

A new contract, approved this week, offers workers more relaxed rules for punching in and out, gives them a 45-cents-an-hour raise and adds more warnings to the disciplinary process.

After eight hours of negotiations, an international labor union and Sodexo agreed on the new contract. Workers who were part at the negotiations said GW’s dining managers refused to raise hourly wages by 65 cents, but later agreed to add an extra 45 cents every year until 2016.

“We reached an agreement and we are very excited,” said Lauren Burke, an organizer for UNITE HERE, the labor union that represents Sodexo employees at GW.

The new contract gives workers the right to take a bathroom break without punching in and out, which used to take time out of their billable hours.

Armecia Barns, a negotiations committee member who started working for GW’s dining services over 40 years ago, said the contract also makes changes to employee disciplining. She and other workers said they were upset with what they described as curt responses from their bosses when they showed up late to work or forgot to use the clock-in system.

“They used to go straight to issuing a written warning, skipping over coaching and verbal warnings,” Barns said.

Therrece Brown, a longtime J Street worker and member of the negotiation committee, called the increase in wages and new rules for clocking in victories, which she said will ease workplace tensions.

Still, Brown said Sodexo’s management team pushed them back on what workers called a chief grievance: GW had cut hours from 40 a week to 30 last year.

J Street workers held a demonstration in February 2013 after Sodexo cut their hours and laid off about 10 employees.

Angie Huang, who has worked for GW’s dining services since she immigrated to the U.S. from China in 1981, said she wants to see more support when workers face cutbacks in their hours and what she describes as “authoritarian” treatment from bosses.

“It’s supposed to be a happy place here,” Huang said. “They don’t respect us here, they don’t treat us well at all.”

Two dozen workers participated in the vote to ratify the contract Monday out of about 50, according to the union. All the votes were unanimous in support of the new contract, which expires in 2016, the same year Sodexo’s contract with the University expires.

J Street general manager Bernadette Thomas said Sodexo was pleased with the outcome of the negotiations.

“Because of our ongoing good relationship with our staff and with the union, the parties were able to bring the negotiations for a renewal collective bargaining agreement to a successful conclusion with the employees’ ratification on Monday of the Tentative Agreement,” Thomas said in an email.

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