Cody Cousino / Asst.Multimedia editor
Critics of the food and facilities management company, Sodexo, Inc., said they hope the recent decision of Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., to end its food services contract with the company will pressure Ohio State to do the same.
“We’re naturally disappointed that Western Washington University decided to go with another company,” said Monica Zimmer, public relations director for Sodexo.
Sodexo, Inc., provided food services for WWU for the past 50 years but lost its contract with the university last Tuesday. Sodexo has taken criticism for alleged violations of workers‘ rights.
United Students Against Sweatshops has been one of the chief critics of Sodexo. The student organization supports a variety of workers’ rights issues but has been particularly vocal about Sodexo because it holds contracts with universities around the country, including OSU.
“It is important to remember that the university is not directly involved in this matter,” OSU spokesman Jim Lynch said in a May 18 email to The Lantern regarding the complaints against Sodexo. “We continue to maintain that every employer is entitled to its own views on unionization and employee relations, just as every employee is entitled to vote on representation; we should not infringe on the rights of either party.”
Ryan Marchese, a fourth-year in international studies and president of USAS at OSU, said the university is trying to change the subject by making the issue about unionization.
“Every time we ask our administration about the issues we’re hearing about on our own campus — issues like racism, sexism, sexual harassment — they try and change the topic to unions and elections,” Marchese said. “Those are not the issues students are concerned about. We’re concerned about racism, sexism and sexual harassment”
The National Labor Relations Board is pursuing charges against Sodexo for anti-union activity.
USAS has accused the company, which employs 120,000 in the U.S., of creating a racist and sexist work environment and paying full-time employees so little they are forced to go on food stamps.
OSU has tried to wash its hands of the alleged problems, Marchese said. He contends that OSU has benefited from Sodexo’s abuses.
“The facts are there are 130 workers on our campus bringing in $10 million every year and half of that gets kicked back to Ohio State,” Marchese said. “So, I think it’s ridiculous for the university to say these workers aren’t our problem when they’re making them $5 million every year.”
OSU’s contract with Sodexo, which was signed in February 1998 and continues through July 2013, does include a stipulation that a commission rate of 46.5 percent of all gross concession sales be paid to OSU. The contract also includes a clause which affirms neither party will discriminate because of race or gender.
The press release from WWU did not say that alleged workers’ rights violations played a role in its decision to end its contract with Sodexo, but the decision came only four days after 60 students and USAS members staged a sit-in at University of Washington president Phyllis Wise’s office. Twenty-seven people were arrested during the incident.
“Decisions to change service providers vary with each client, and that’s the way it goes,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer said Sodexo was involved in several sustainability efforts at WWU, supported the Bellingham food bank and led a Stop Hunger effort around the country, but Marchese said these are just more attempts to change the conversation.
“It’s great that Sodexo does charity work. On our own campus, organizations are able to raise money through Sodexo by cleaning up the Schottenstein Center after events,” Marchese said. “But that certainly doesn’t make up for the fact that workers in the same building are complaining of racism, sexism and sexual harassment.”
The USAS chapter at OSU is planning to hold a rally at the Wexner Center Plaza today at 2 p.m. to help publicize their efforts to oust Sodexo. Marchese said he expects a crowd of between 60 and 120 people to attend.
“I think that not only does our university have a responsibility to see that workers on our campus are treated well and respected,” Marchese said. “As students, we have a responsibility to see that workers on our campus are treated well and respected.”
Correction: The article previously stated that the sit-in occurred at Western Washington University. In fact, it took place at the University of Washington.