After months of back and forth between Sodexo and the union that represents its workers on campus, Binghamton University students have begun lending their voices to the workers demanding a contract.
A crowd of more than 100 students, Sodexo workers and faculty members gathered in front of the Pegasus Statue on Tuesday to protest the contract negotiations between Sodexo and United Professional and Service Employees Union (UPSEU) 1222, the Albany-based organization that represents the majority of food service workers on campus.
According to UPSEU 1222 organizers, workers and supporters, Sodexo’s refusal to agree to a contract that provides higher wages and better benefits was indicative of “corporate exploitation.” According to protesters, the best way to get the attention of the company and the administration is to have students involved.
“We’re here because we’re fighting to get a contract with Sodexo,” said Tracey Sager, a Sodexo employee who works in College-in-the-Woods (CIW). “We’re working without one. At this point, they’ve walked out of negotiations and are not willing to give us a raise at all. People who have been here 15, 20 years are minimum wage workers. I think Sodexo will listen to what the students have to say. They don’t seem to want to listen to the workers right now.”
After the rally began at 3:15 p.m., students and workers took to the platform to voice their opinions. Alex Grabstein, one of the organizers and a junior majoring in environmental studies, pressed attendees to help.
“Members of our Binghamton family, the wonderful Sodexo workers, they need our help in their contract negotiations,” he said. “These hardworking people make, on average, $12,000 a year. From a company that makes $23 billion. I think this corporation can afford to give them a livable wage. Today, if we stand in solidarity with these hardworking members of our family, together we will overcome.”
Ralliers wearing both red UPSEU 1222 t-shirts and pins demanding a “fair contract now” and carrying signs marched from the statue to the Brain. The group then marched through Tillman Lobby, through the Marketplace and through the Peace Quad, ending in front of the Couper Administration Building.
In between chants of “fair wage or student rage” and “1, 2, 3, 4, no one should be working poor,” Sodexo worker Kayla Jimenez, an undeclared freshman, said she sees the effects of the lack of contract.
“I know a lot of my coworkers survive off of food stamps and they can’t make a means for themselves with these low wages,” she said. “It’s ridiculous that these negotiations have just been ongoing for weeks, months, Most of my coworkers are stuck in this position. They’re stuck. They’re not given much room for mobility. They need to be provided for a way to make a living.”
BU’s Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Rose said that the administration is holding out hope that progress will come from the contract negotiations.
“Sodexo workers have every right to seek the best contract they can obtain and members of our community have every right to express their solidarity,” he said. “Results will be achieved at the bargaining table between the two parties engaged in the actual bargaining process.”
Melvin Philip, a second-year graduate student studying biology, said that the students had a duty to help the workers be heard.
“We support Sodexo workers,” Philip said. “We feel they should be getting a fair wage, a fair contract. It’s unfair that Sodexo is not negotiating with them. It’s clear injustice. Sodexo workers are going to be heard, regardless of the inaction of Sodexo itself or the University administration.”
Many of the workers in attendance agreed that the student voice was an important part of bringing light to their plight. Ed Wickware, who works in the CIW dining hall, said he had his faith in the people they serve every day.
“The students have the power on campus,” he said. “As long as we have the student backing, we might have a chance.”