Friday, April 23, 2010

CHOW mentioned in PipeDream

Sodexo awarded for ethics as workers make minimum wage

Originally Published 2010-04-23

By Ashley Tarr

Twelve people, including actor Danny Glover, were arrested while protesting the low wages and poor working conditions of Sodexo — which was just named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies.

The protest was held at Sodexo’s U.S. headquarters in Maryland, but workers at Binghamton University said the complaints ring true here on campus.

Two current employees and one former employee, who spoke to Pipe Dream under the condition of anonymity to protect their employment and identities, said that multiple dining locations on campus were “hostile environments” to work in. They attributed the environment to pressures to finish work given inadequate time, a lack of concern from superiors and intimidation from higher up.

The three also said that the “Sodexo experience,” a list of guidelines on how to greet and treat customers, is difficult to follow under the conditions.

“They force you to do that,” one worker said. “These people [the employees] can’t smile because they’re worn, they’re broke.”


Sodexo, a French company, employs approximately 110,000 people in the U.S. The corporation, which was also named to the list of World’s Most Ethical Companies last year, brought in $7.7 billion in annual revenue for 2008. The company’s contract with BU, which spans 10 years and expires in 2015, is worth $120 million.

Companies are named to the Ethisphere Institute’s WME list based on seven categories, including integrity track record, corporate citizenship and responsibility, innovation and tone from the top. Other companies named include Nike, Best Buy and PepsiCo.

Ethisphere, an “international think tank” dedicated to promoting the best practices in business ethics, collects nominations and conducts data analysis before deciding its winners. The list was announced last month.

After nearly a dozen e-mails and phone calls, Ethisphere declined to comment or answer questions about their process due to “editorial commitments.”


Employee sources said that a significant percentage of workers live paycheck to paycheck; they are forced to frequent soup kitchens and charities to feed themselves and their families. The problem has been ongoing since at least fall 2008, when one employee estimated that between 65 and 70 percent of workers used charities to get food. Paul Kerns, general manager for Sodexo at BU, said he could not verify the statistics.

Sodexo partners with Community Hunger Outreach Warehouse (CHOW) to collect food donations on campus.

“Charity starts at home,” the worker said of Sodexo’s priorities.


The contract is between Sodexo at BU and Unite Here’s Rochester Regional Joint Board. It includes some benefits and categorizes food service workers — cashiers, utility workers, station attendants, snack bar workers and employees in other areas — as making minimum wage, $7.25, as a starting rate, and $7.55 after six months. According to the contract, the highest-paid employees on campus are “bakery leads,” who make between $15.50 and $16 an hour. Most positions fall near the lower end of the spectrum.

A condition within Article 22 of 42 of the Unite Here contract stipulates that full-time employees are those who work 30 hours or more per week. Employee sources said that for some, 30 hours is not enough time to keep up with their workload, causing them to come in off the clock to compensate. Working more than 40 hours constitutes overtime.

Kerns said he would be “surprised” if workers had hours cut. Monica Zimmer, director of public relations at Sodexo headquarters, said that fewer than 10 out of 250 employees have had their hours cut.

Likewise, Kerns said he would be surprised if every employee didn’t receive what was mandated by the contract.

“If it’s the collective bargaining agreement, that’s the environment we’re in,” he said.


According to a press release, George Chavel, president and CEO of Sodexo North America and COO of Sodexo Group, said that the company was named to the list because of its persistence in the realms of social responsibility and sustainability. Specifically, the release cites its Better Tomorrow Plan, the company’s vow for worldwide sustainability over the next 10 years, as well as a Business Abuse Hotline for employees to call with any legal, ethical or safety concerns.

“We strive for transparency in our business dealings,” he stated in the release.

BU’s Director of Auxiliary Services Pete Napolitano, whose job is to make sure Sodexo’s contract with BU is upheld, is focused on long-term dining projects. He also said that employee rights issues are a concern to him and the University, but could not say to what degree.

“That’s what I would leave to Paul [Kerns],” Napolitano said. “As the University administrator of the contract, I wouldn’t get into that level of detail.”

A campus dining services committee is comprised of students, faculty, officials, Sodexo workers and others, but Napolitano said that this committee is also concerned with long-term plans for dining at BU, rather than day-to-day problems.

Sodexo’s contract with Unite Here expires in August 2011.

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