Most of us at Drexel, even if we haven’t been to the Hans in four years, even if we haven’t had a dining plan in as long, even if we’ve never been to the Urban Eatery, still complain about campus dining. It’s expensive, and a generally poor value when compared to similarly-sized institutions. And it’s mandatory. Those of us in the know blame (in addition to the University) Sodexo, a French company with a diverse portfolio including janitorial services at schools and other institutions, food service at universities, schools, prisons, and hospitals, provide facilities management for large public and private organizations and through their subsidiary, Sodexo Justice Services, they operate private prisons in the United Kingdom.
It may please us to find out that Sodexo will be out of the equation soon, then. Drexel is terminating their 21-year relationship with them effective December 10, 2016. It’s a nice holiday present for us students.
It is not such a nice holiday present for 250 or so Sodexo employees and the union which represents most of them them, Teamsters Local 115. They’ve received their 60 days notice mandated by the Worker Retraining and Notification Act (WARN) and will be laid off by Sodexo at the conclusion of the contract. The University has made no commitment to current employees’ job safety, saying that, since the workers are employees of Sodexo they have said they cannot comment on their future employment. A source within the University told us, however, that “Local No. 115 will be notified of the company as well as supplied with contact information for a senior member of the company’s labor relations team.” (Contact information! What a gesture!)
A big help that will be should the University decide to cut costs by picking a non-union food service company. Current employees can expect paycuts, if they are even re-hired by the new contractor. Local 115 can’t effectively negotiate with a company that has no organized labor amongst its employees — the power in a union comes from the ability to strike, or to slow production.
The truth is, of course, that the University is writing the contract, and has every ability to protect current employees. They can drop a clause in there mandating that all those Sodexo employees who wish to continue working at Drexel may continue to do so at their previous salary or wages, with their previous benefits. They can commit to only working with union-friendly companies. They’re the ones paying, they hold all the cards.
We may have complained about Sodexo in the past, but it’s important to know that real people work there, and many have been working there for decades at a steady union job which pays the bills. A new food service contract may provide better food for students, and at a lower price. It may increase quality of life on campus. It may result in better service, cleaner dining halls, fewer health code violations, and so on.
But does it have to come at the price of putting 250 breadwinners for as many families out of work, two weeks before the holidays?