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Students protest expected tuition hike, Sodexo worker treatment

Rick Schanz / Managing editor for content

Hundreds of people gathered to protest what they believe is corporate greed, including human rights abuses by food-service subcontractor Sodexo Inc., a probable Ohio State tuition increase and Gov. John Kasich’s support for big business and privatization.

The protesters, who began about 11 a.m. Friday, consisted largely of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) members. They pounded drums made of buckets and duct tape, and carried signs with slogans, such as “Get Out Sodexo” and “Protect workers, support students, defend Ohio.”

One sign featured OSU President E. Gordon Gee with his characteristic red bowtie. The sign conveyed Gee covering his eyes, accompanied by the phrase “Turning a blind eye.”

During the march, cries of “O-H-I-O, Kick out Sodexo” emanated around the Oval.

Ryan Marchese, a fourth-year in international development, leads USAS at OSU.

“There’s been wage theft, sexism and sexual harassment,” Marchese said of Sodexo’s influence at OSU. “We have to protect the students on our campus.”

OSU subcontracts 100 seasonal and 25 full-time employees from the France-based company, OSU spokesman Jim Lynch said.

However, Alfred King, a spokesman for Sodexo USA, said, “(The employees are) all seasonal. It’s a seasonal facility.”

The protesters began at William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library, and then made their way around the Oval before arriving at Bricker Hall, where Gee’s office is, shortly before noon.

About 50 students wearing red armbands entered the building in hopes of speaking with Gee.

Nicholas Pasquarello, a third-year in psychology, said it’s been difficult for the group to meet with Gee, though members of USAS met with him about a year ago.

Lynch said USAS members met with Gee and university administrators in the past and that the “students have certainly shared some compelling stories.”

“But,” he said, “the students have been unable to show any evidence of poor treatment of Sodexo employees.”

Sodexo released a statement to The Lantern that said the average wage for the employees who work at Ohio Stadium is close to $10 an hour, which is competitive for their job responsibilities and skill levels. Also, on average, Sodexo pays two-thirds of the cost of employees’ health premiums.

Marchese said Gee was not interested in finding a solution.

Lynch said, “It’s important to remember that OSU is not directly involved in this matter. This is an issue that’s between Sodexo and (the Service Employees International Union) who’s attempting to unionize the company.”

Sodexo said today’s protest is part of an ongoing smear campaign by the SEIU to force Sodexo to give away its employees’ right to vote for or against this union in secret ballot elections that protect the privacy of their decision and prevent management or union supporters from exerting undue pressure on employees.

Pasquarello entered Bricker with the other students.

“(Gee) wasn’t in,” he said, “but we demanded to set up an appointment with him.”

The group was told to set up a meeting online, he said, “like we always do.”

Lynch said Gee is busy from 4 a.m. until late at night, adding that most of the other administrators were not in their offices either.

After the group emerged from the building without a resolution, its chant became, “We’ll be back.”

Rob Nichols, Kasich’s press secretary, did not immediately respond to a voice mail message requesting comment.

Sodexo did not immediately provide a statement.

Michael Periatt and Rick Schanz contributed to this story.

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