For the roughly 40 unionized Sodexo employees working in the New University Union Food Court and Susquehanna Room, the renovations to the University Unions mean new jobs, and possibly different hours and wages.
Although Sodexo offered all of the workers new positions, many of the employees felt the process of job selection was rushed, and lamented that their union, the Rochester Regional Joint Board, did too little to protect their interests.
Several Sodexo employees, with jobs in the Unions, spoke with Pipe Dream and were granted anonymity because Sodexo management bars employees from talking to the press.
“A lot of people had to take jobs that they didn’t really want, and some that they weren’t even qualified for,” said a Sodexo employee working in the New University Union.
In an email to Pipe Dream, Emily Vick, the Albany District Director of the Rochester Regional Joint Board — a subgroup of the large national union, Workers United — acknowledged that change and transition are always challenging, but emphasized that each of the workers affected by the renovation had secured a new position with Sodexo.
“Now is the time to focus on our upcoming negotiations where we will be fighting to maintain and improve upon the victories the union has won for our members in previous years,” Vick wrote, referring to the upcoming collective bargaining process once the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) expires in June.
Vick did not respond to questions asking if the actions she took regarding the employees affected by the renovations were influenced by considerations of the upcoming negotiations.
Robert Griffin, the district marketing manager for Sodexo, wrote in an email that Sodexo worked closely with the union to assist workers placing them in jobs of the pay and job classification, as stated in the CBA.
“The process has been closely coordinated with the union, and we are very pleased at the spirit of cooperation and support that has been evident through the process,” Griffin wrote.
The collective bargaining agreement classifies workers positions into categories based on job requirements to determine pay. One employee said positions with the same classification can have very different responsibilities. The employee argued that some of their colleagues were forced to take jobs with unrealistic expectations to avoid taking pay cuts.
”A kid has a disability, and they now told him he has to work three 10 to 11-hour days,” the employee said. “You know they’re not going to make it. They’re not going to make it through these jobs.”
The employee admitted he or she did not feel totally comfortable with the added responsibilities of the new position.
Neither Griffin nor Vick commented on whether employees’ special circumstances were considered during the job bidding process.
Several Sodexo employees claimed they learned the University Union was closing from a December Pipe Dream article.
Sodexo did not complete a list of available jobs for the University Union staff until mid April, and an email from Griffin said Sodexo hoped to conclude the job bidding process several weeks later by May 11.
“The Union was consulted in the plans laid out by Sodexo, and their feedback was useful in ensuring as prompt a course of action as possible,” Grifffin wrote.
The employees said they did not have enough time to research the new positions. The posted list of positions contained the job classification and hours of the available jobs, but did not include any description of the responsibilities the job will entail. The employees also said they felt rushed when they were called into meetings to choose a position.
“We knew something was going to happen, but we didn’t know when, why, where. The jobs weren’t posted, and if they wanted people to make decisions they should have been,” an employee said.
This employee claimed negotiations between Sodexo and the union were conducted behind closed doors, without direct representation for the workers themselves. The employee accused the union of working too closely with Sodexo management, and neglecting the concerns of the workers.
The employee said more than 20 employees called Vick expressing their grievances over the job bidding process. However, Ms. Vick did not respond directly to many of the employees and was slow to respond to any complaints at all.
“These people pay $10 a week [in union dues], and only make $7.25 an hour, for that kind of service,” the employee said. “I told them they should have posted the jobs. My union didn’t care. They didn’t even return my phone calls.”
Vick opted not to elaborate on the extent of her interaction with employees throughout the job bidding process. She did not respond to inquiries from Pipe Dream asking if she returned calls to any of the employees.
“We need you, we need you desperately. I said please come down here, we need you down here,” an employee said describing their phone call to Vick.
In a brief statement included in the email from Vick, she wrote that the Labor Management Committee, composed of “rank and file” union members, collaborated with Sodexo and Union representatives to make the transition between jobs as smooth as possible, however the employees contend they had no direct representation at the negotiations.
Vick used the statement to emphasize the benefits the added employees as union members.
“We will be fighting to maintain and improve upon the victories the union has already won for our members in previous years, including 100 percent employer paid health insurance, pensions, as well as the seniority rights, job security and job protections that allowed the members at the Food Court to be able to choose from the many open positions, with respect given to seniority, rather than having one forced upon them, as many non-union workers face in the work place every day,” Vick wrote.
Although the employees said they were glad the positions were offered on the basis of seniority, they felt this victory did not overshadow the overwhelming absence of the union among the employees it is supposed to represent. They said Vick made one brief visit to campus during the three weeks of job bidding.
“If you’re going to place 39 people, you better be down here fighting for these people’s jobs, and telling them what you think,” one employee said. “Nothing at all from our union. And that hurt. That really hurt us, and I told them we’re just really getting taken advantage of here because people just don’t know what they want, and she just blew it off.”