Kayla Byler / Lantern Photographer
About 40 protesters banging drums, shaking noisemakers and shouting chants rattled the walls outside Ohio State President E. Gordon Gee’s office Monday, but it’s not clear if the message they brought will resonate with the university administration.
Nine protesters, including seven OSU students, were arrested during a sit-in outside Gee’s office in Bricker Hall. All nine protesters posted bail of $254 each and were released by 1:45 p.m. Tuesday.
Ryan Marchese, a fourth-year in international studies, was one of those arrested. He is president of the group that organized the demonstration, United Students Against Sweatshops. He said he and the other protesters were separated and kept overnight at a Franklin County correctional facility on Jackson Pike.
All nine were charged with criminal trespassing and one was also charged with resisting arrest after OSU police told the group to leave.
Seven of those arrested were OSU students: Marchese; Natalie Yoon, a second-year in international studies and USAS secretary; Carolynne Grace Jones, a student in public affairs; Casey Ellen Slive, a student in geography and international studies; Terasia Bradford, a student in French and globalization studies; Isaac Paul Miller, a student in exploration; Hutchinson Srisoontorn Persons, a student in philosophy. OSU police said the other two protesters arrested are not OSU students: Adrian Evangelos Bradley Jusdanis, 21, of Columbus and Christopher Ian Wells, 28, of Stone Mountain, Ga.
The nine were a small contingent of an estimated 100 protesters that USAS organized who gathered between Sullivant Hall and the Wexner Center for the Arts at about 2 p.m. Monday.
After that rally, about 40 protesters entered Bricker Hall and crowded the area just outside Gee’s office in an effort to force Gee to address the group’s accusations against OSU contractor Sodexo, Inc.
USAS has accused Sodexo of violating workers’ rights to unionize and of various other forms of worker mistreatment, including sexism and racism.
“Sodexo is aware of what happened at OSU yesterday,” Sodexo spokesperson Jennifer Hart told The Lantern Tuesday. “Our position is that we believe this was provoked as part of an ongoing corporate campaign that the Service Employee International Union has launched against Sodexo.”
The labor union and USAS have made similar claims about Sodexo. Hart said she is frustrated because the groups repeatedly make the same accusations.
“No matter what we do to try to refute them, we don’t seem to be getting the same kind of traction,” Hart said. “By spreading unfounded allegations about how we run our business and how we treat our approximately 380,000 employees in 80 countries, this campaign is fueling protests that are based on an entirely inaccurate portrayal of Sodexo.”
Marchese said SEIU was not involved in this event and that the union did not provide any financial or any other form of support.
SEIU did not immediately respond for comment Tuesday evening.
Still, Hart contends that Sodexo is a responsible business that respects and appreciates its employees.
“We are proud of our 20-year partnership with Ohio State and are grateful to all of our employees who make it possible for Sodexo to provide great experiences with our customers and communities everyday,” Hart said. “Sodexo is very clear that we respect our employees’ right to vote for or against unionization in a federally-supervised, secret-ballot election. It should be their choice and there should be no outside influences from us or from other parties.”
The company has been singled out as one of the top companies in the U.S. for diversity and inclusion by DiversityInc magazine, and was twice named a top employer for hourly workers by Working Mother magazine, Hart added.
USAS will remain steadfast in its efforts to oust Sodexo from the OSU campus, but there are no immediate plans for another protest, Marchese said. Last week, Western Washington University cut its ties with Sodexo.
“Right now we have to focus on fundraisers. We have court tomorrow (Wednesday) morning to find out how much we have to pay in terms of fines and court costs. That’s going to be keeping us busy,” Marchese said. “But we are absolutely going to be putting pressure on our administration and showing them that students won’t be silenced until the contract with Sodexo is cut.”
In an email to The Lantern, OSU spokesman Jim Lynch indicated the university is not planning on breaking its contract with Sodexo any time soon.
“The university’s contract with Sodexo does not expire until June 30, 2013,” Lynch said. “Ohio State will continue to closely monitor the developing negotiations between SEIU and Sodexo.”