Students for Workers’ Rights show thanks for dining workers

C2M’s George Yanez follows students asking for canned food to benefit dining workers. (George Yanez)

from Connect to Mason

by Adam Sylvain

Representatives of the GMU Students for Workers’ Rights handed out fliers and canned goods to workers Tuesday to show appreciation for their work.  Two group members also visited President Merten’s office in hopes of acquiring a canned food donation, but were informed President Merten was out of the office this afternoon.

Kathy Cagle, administrative assistant in the President’s office, advised the pair of representatives to contact President Merten via e-mail and reschedule a time so that he can be prepared for the visit.

Emily Miles, GMU Students for Worker’s Rights representative, said the visit to President Merten’s office was mostly a symbolic gesture.

“The wages and benefits are the issue here,” said GMU Students for Worker’s Rights representative, Robbie Krieger. “If they [dining workers] were getting good wages and benefits under their current contract, we wouldn’t need to ask for canned goods.”

After leaving President Merten’s office, Miles and Krieger distributed Thanksgiving cards to dining workers in the Johnson Center. The message on the front of the card read, “We Give Thanks to Our Dining Workers,” with the Spanish translation, “Damos Gracias a Nuestros Trabajadores del Comedor.”

The pair waited until most of the workers left their jobs at 2:30 p.m. to hand out the canned food donations. According to Miles, the group had gathered over 200 canned food items. Most of the donations were collected in donation bins outside of the Johnson Center on Monday.

“Donating canned food is especially helpful at this time since dining workers are temporarily laid off while students are away on break, said Miles.

The GMU Students for Worker’s Rights have been taking action throughout the semester in the hopes of achieving better benefits and wages, safe working conditions, and a right to organize for all of the university’s dining workers.

According to Miles, the GMU Students for Worker’s Rights is affiliated with the United Students Against Sweatshops and is part of a national effort to oust Sodexo from university campuses.

“Our goal is to cut the current contract with Sodexo unless our requirements are met, said Krieger. “We want a new contract with full labor rights, better wages and benefits.”

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‘Reverse Trick-or-Treating’ Spreads Awareness About Cafeteria Working Conditions

On Halloween, students at George Mason University knocked on people’s doors not for candy, but instead to bring attention to the injustices on campus under Sodexo, a Fortune 500 corporation. We divided into several groups in order to talk to the neighbors of GMU President Alan Merten, who refuses to take action concerning the human and workers’ rights violations at Mason. Students handed out hundreds of flyers in the neighborhoods surrounding the GMU presidential estate.

We talked to mostly empathetic neighbors about what is happening on our campus. Despite their hard work and dedication, our workers that have been working under Sodexo for decades are still making poverty wages. Also, many workers cannot afford Sodexo’s expensive health insurance options. Additionally, Sodexo cuts corners with equipment and safety trainings. Cristela Moreno, who has worked at GMU for 21 years, severely cut her finger in April and had to be taken to a hospital. In a statement she said “for that type of machinery, one has to use two gloves. But we were only provided with one glove. We asked for another glove, but were told that we had to pay $25 for it.” With all this injustice, President Merten continues to support these unfair practices through the contract between GMU and Sodexo.

After several hours of talking with President Merten’s neighbors, we gathered together to hand out one more flyer at President Merten’s house. We were politely greeted by Merten’s wife, and we asked her if we could speak to our school president, who soon came to the door. We talked briefly to him about the issue and why we had chosen to spend our night going from door to door. Yet President Merten was not empathetic to the issue. Before long, he shut the door on us and called the GMU police.

Workers cannot wait any longer for a living wage and a safe working environment. President Merten must act now. Mason can do better than contracting out to Sodexo and we will do better. We were happy to spend our Halloweens to bring more attention to the issue as we continue to fight for change.

Beginning in the spring, workers and students are working together to improve the working conditions in our cafeterias. In April, a delegation of students, union members, and GMU workers met with the GMU Sodexo Regional Manager who refused to accept the worker’s petition. The delegation was soon followed by a one day strike of over 70 Sodexo workers. In September, thirty students and workers delivered a letter of demands to President Merten’s office. Also in September, more than 100 Sodexo workers held a two day strike closing a number of dining locations on campus.

President Merten has continued to ignore the voices of many concerned, tuition-paying students. He has refused to read our letters or respond to our emails. As students that pay for his $624,125 yearly salary, we believe that this is undemocratic and unfair to students. We hope that Merten can do the right thing and stand up against Sodexo, for workers and for students.

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GMU Workers Strike Continues

Group of Dining Workers Continues Strike, Holds Speakout in Johnson Center Cinema

from Connect to Mason

UPDATED 9/09/10 3:38 p.m. post-protest

Day two of a strike by about 10 percent of Mason’s dining services work force kicked off Thursday on campus with a Service Employees International Union-organized speakout in the Johnson Center Cinema and a protest at the heart of campus.

Workers Andres Ujueta and Cristela Morano, who have been with Mason’s dining service provider Sodexo for two years and 21 years respectively, said management treats them badly and they are paid very poor wages.

After the workers spoke, protesters poured onto campus carrying signs, some of which displayed photographs of cuts or grease burns suffered by workers. They wore SEIU T-shirts and between the color-photo placards, chants, and megaphone, appeared very tightly organized.

About 80 people showed up for the talk and stayed through the North Plaza protest, including SEIU organizers and nine Sodexo workers from other operations in other states as far as Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, said SEIU spokesperson Matt Painter. About 15 students were among the crowd, and at least 50 workers. Sodexo employs over 500 workers.

Morano held up a sign with a picture of her finger, which had been badly cut and stitched after an accident on a cutting machine. She blamed Sodexo for not providing a second mesh glove. Another sign claimed a worker received a grease burn because management did not supply a stool and the ovens are too high to reach into.

Blue fliers put up by “Mason Dining” were scattered across Johnson Center tables Thursday morning arguing that SEIU is conducting a “smear campaign” and that workplace hazards are addressed at monthly meetings and that health inspectors passed the dining facilities without concern as recently as Tuesday.

The flier reiterated statements by management that all employees are trained in safety and that all proper equipment is provided.
Ted Kinnaman, the chair of philosophy department, and state Sen. Dave Marsden (VA-37) also spoke in support of the workers.

UPDATED 9/09/10 10:10 a.m. before cinema speakout

A group of George Mason University’s Sodexo-employed dining workers continued their strike Thursday in order to protest alleged unsafe working conditions and improper treatment.

With support from Service Employees International Union organizers and workers from other Sodexo-contracted locations across the country, day two of the strike closed the same operations as Wednesday: George’s, two Jazzman’s locations, Café a la Carte and the Jazzman’s in the Prince William campus. The several dozen Sodexo workers plan to attend today’s “speakout” session in the Johnson Center Cinema 10:30 p.m., an event open for the public for workers to share their accounts of alleged unsafe working conditions and retaliation and mistreatment from Mason-location Sodexo management.

In a phone-call interview this morning, Resident District Manager of Sodexo operations at Mason Denise Ammaccapane said that by Mason Dining tally, the total number of workers who did not show up for work Wednesday to be 51 people. Matt Painter, a representative from SEIU’s local 32BJ, said that Mason Dining’s number is not accurate, and that over 100 people were present for yesterday’s events at the plaza. Sodexo employs over 500 workers at Mason.

“We’re open for business as usual today, just like yesterday,” said Ammaccapane.

According to Painter, the list of speakers at today’s event includes: a few of Mason’s striking workers, a Sodexo-employed worker from another location, GMU for Workers’ Rights member Jason Von Kundra, and local Democratic state senator Dave Marsden (VA-37) will also be in attendance. Painter also said that Theodore J. Kinnaman, the chair of the philosophy department at Mason, is expected to speak as well.

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SFWR Delivers Demands to Merten

from Connect to Mason

A new George Mason University student organization says it backs campus dining workers who have protested conditions and wages of Sodexo. Carrying over unionization efforts from last spring, the group hand-delivered a message of protest on Thursday calling on President Alan Merten to remove the corporation as the university’s dining services provider.

Merten was not in, so the message was received by presidential operations manager Sharon Cullen, who had no comment.

The GMU Students for Workers’ Rights waved signs, placards, and wore stickers proclaiming “No justice / No pizza,” “Our Workers Deserve Fair Wages,” and “Shame on Sodexo”. Most of the 15 students, backed up by five workers, were also involved in other left-leaning campus organizations, including the College Democrats, who backed the workers in a formal letter written at the time of the protests last April.

Dining services management have denied workers’ claims. Assistant Controller Charles Olson said he personally receives an hourly wage and said Sodexo wages and benefits are very competitive and higher than the median for the region. He also said many injuries occur because proper procedure is not followed, and then “we get made out to be the bad guys.”

Accusations and counter-accusations have flown between workers and management. Bill Fry, a Sodexo retail chief, claimed the Service Employees International Union is coaching workers. Students for Workers’ Rights member Jason Von Kundra, answering another Sodexo manager’s concerns about the Service Employees International Union, said that he represents a student group that is not affiliated with the union, though they do support worker’s rights to unionize.

The SEIU, however, has made calls to the College Democrats in order to alert them to the union and worker’s efforts and when Von Kundra was asked if the SEIU has called or nudged them to act, he made no comment.

Dining workers will also share their stories to the public at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 9, in the Johnson Center Cinema, according to a release from Von Kundra.

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Over 100 GMU Workers Strike!

from the SEIU blog | by Ashley Wood

Sodexo’s most recent retaliation against workers was the last straw at George Mason University. On Wednesday, more than 100 food service workers at GMU went on strike to protest the unsafe working conditions they’ve experienced while on the job. The workers say Sodexo has responded to their demands with retaliation instead of providing the proper protective equipment.

Last week, when workers and students at the Virginia school delivered a petition to Sodexo management raising health and safety concerns, Sodexo responded by changing the assignment of one worker leader of the delegation so she would no longer have contact with students.

Yesterday, Sodexo workers stood up for their rights at GMU and voted to walk off the job to protest workplace injuries and Sodexo’s attempt to intimidate them.

“We are tired of getting burned and injured on the job,” said Christela Moreno, who has worked since 1989 for Sodexo. “We want safe jobs and we want our union, but when we speak up, management tries to scare and intimidate us. That’s why we’re on strike.”

Workers have already protested Sodexo last spring at GMU, after facing intimidation for supporting a union. And wages for GMU workers are so low, most of them cannot afford Sodexo’s expensive health insurance – making safe jobs and union contracts necessary to improve their lives.

GMUStudents_SDXStrikeSept2010.jpgSince 2000, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and various state workplace safety agencies have found 160 violations and levied penalties of more than $200,000 against Sodexo for health and safety problems at its various worksites across the country.

“Sodexo workers shouldn’t go to work fearing that they might end up in the hospital,” said Jaime Contreras, 32BJ District Director. “Last year the company made $1 billion in profits, and workers are simply asking the company to provide good jobs with basic safety protections.”

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Letter of Demands

September 2, 2010

Dear President Alan Merten,

Students at George Mason University have learned that dining workers on our campus are facing abuse, mistreatment, and intimidation by Sodexo management. Our on-campus workers are making below living wage salaries while Sodexo, a Fortune 500 corporation, made over one billion dollars in profits during 2009. Many of our workers have families at home and struggle to support them with low wages. Additionally, Sodexo’s health insurance options cut deeply into workers’ pay checks. Worst of all, Sodexo does not provide a safe environment for our dining workers. Workers have come out publically about burns, cuts, and back injuries that were not handled properly by Sodexo. With all this injustice, the Mason administration continues its support of these unfair practices through its contract with Sodexo.

Students are not letting Sodexo get away with exploiting our workers. This fall, workers and students have decided they have had enough. Students and workers are working side-by-side in the movement towards fair labor practices. No longer will we let the Mason administration stand by while dining workers suffer under shameful Sodexo. We, students at Mason, are demanding that the administration do the following:

  1. Kick out Sodexo Immediately. We demand that the George Mason University notifies Sodexo that it will be ending its contract. Mason has the right to cancel and terminate the contract, without penalty, upon 60 days written notice to Sodexo.
  2. Require Mason Dining or the New Contractor to provide the following:
  • Worker Security: Re-hire all previous workers under Sodexo
  • Living Wage: Pay living wages according to Fairfax city basic living wage
  • Health Insurance: Provide affordable health insurance for dining workers
  • Right to Organize: Respect workers’ rights to legally organize
  • Worker Safety: Ensure a safe working environment

We urge the Mason administration to make our dining service in-house. Alternatively, the Mason administration can send out a Request for Proposal (RFP) in which they can include the above demands as a requirement for food services to abide by.

  1. George Mason University must make the decision about its contractors democratic and transparent. Both students and workers should be involved in deciding which food service contractor our university chooses and what should be included in the contract. The decision-making process should be open to all of the Mason community.

We hope that administrators will be fair and listen to what its students have to say. Students will not stand aside idly while our workers are in need.

With much due respect,

GMU Students for Workers Rights

GMU Lebanese Student Association

GMU College Democrats

GMU Students Against World Hunger

Corazones Unidos Siempre Chi Upsilon Sigma La Unidad Latina

National Latin Sorority Inc. Lambda Upsilon Lambda Fraternity, Inc.

GMU Environmental Action Group

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