Sodexo Oppressing Workers In The US And Colombia

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Sodexo laundry workers in Cleveland, Ohio, on Tuesday delivered a petition to management calling for greater safety standards.

The petition included hundreds of signatures from people in support of the laundry workers’ cause.

Employees at the Sodexo laundry facility in Cleveland report that they face high temperatures, dangerous environments, and physical exertion due to high production quotas set by management.

After hearing stories about their working conditions, over 1,800 statements in support of the laundry workers came pouring in from around the country.

Rallying outside the laundry on Tuesday, workers carried signs that displayed some of these messages, such as:

‘All human beings deserve to be treated with dignity and respect’; ‘Sodexo’s workers need to work in as safe a manner as possible’; ‘Sweatshops should not be a part of American society’; and ‘Do for your workers what you would want any employer to do for your own children.’

That evening workers testified about their low wages, expensive health insurance and dangerous safety issues at a Workers’ Rights Board Meeting.

The meeting’s panel included Reverend Marvin McMickle, NAACP Executive Director Stanley Miller and State Representative Mike Foley. Sodexo plant manager John Masso was invited, but did not show up.

One employee explained to the panel that sorting laundry can be a horrific experience, saying it is not uncommon to encounter hazardous medical waste such as bloody needles, faeces and once, an umbilical cord.

Other workers say they are afraid of management and that they are not treated with respect.

Laundry workers in Cleveland are hoping their petitions and public support will move Sodexo to take their safety and wellbeing more seriously.

They are trying to organise a union to improve their jobs and allow them to keep up their hard work in a safer environment.

Meanwhile, Sodexo workers in Colombia tell of overtime without pay, anti-union threats, and the struggle to live on Sodexo’s wages.

‘Sodexo likes to speak in very general terms about its workers and how content they are. But it’s only when you speak with frontline Sodexo workers – outside the watchful gaze of management – that you find out what it’s really like to work for Sodexo.’

Sam Alcoff, a filmmaker, recently spoke with two Sodexo workers in Colombia – Miladis Montaldo and Maria Sanchez Areiza – who told of their struggles working for Sodexo.

Both Miladis and Maria say that they work long hours for little pay and do not receive proper compensation for overtime.

They also say that they risk retaliation over union activities.

The situation for Maria is especially dire. She has cancer but must work to support her family.

But even then, as she explains, she is struggling to pay for her medicine and provide the very basics for her daughters.

‘The next time you read a Sodexo press release bragging about the company’s latest award for corporate social responsibility, that’s rhetoric, this is reality’.

Meanwhile, Jorge Anaya, Youth Department Director of the CUT union in Colombia, reports that the systematic shrinking of the state and the consequent shirking of its obligation to guarantee young people’s rights – transferred to a private system requiring payment to access them, is one of the strategies pushed by the governments in office over the last decade.

The precarious national budget allocated to the young population, together with the disinterest in creating a genuine National Public Employment System, has led to a proliferation of employment through intermediaries and subcontracting.

The employment policy pursued during its eight years in office by the government of Álvaro Uribe Vélez with the enactment of Law 789 of 2002, and a range of regulatory decrees, has sent the unemployment rate soaring, discouraged formal employment and slashed workers’ purchasing power whilst allowing employers to save over four billion pesos a year, thus widening the gap between rich and poor.

This situation has been created with the backing of employers and industrialists, through mechanisms driving down labour costs and removing restrictions on employers, such as ‘service provisions orders’, temporary employment contracts and associated work cooperatives.

During 2010, the employment situation of young people has deteriorated even further than in previous years.

The unemployment rate rose by one point, from 21.7 per cent in May 2009 to 22.6 per cent in May 2010.

Hardest hit are young women, whose unemployment rate rose from 28.4 per cent to 28.9 per cent, while that of their male counterparts went from 17.1 per cent to 18.1 per cent.

As a result, 1,228,000 young people found themselves unemployed at the end of May 2010, which represents almost half (48.7 per cent) of the 2,519,000 unemployed workers in Colombia.

In other words, one in every two jobless people in Colombia is young, yet only one in four workers is in the 14 to 26 year-old age bracket.

The outlook is not bright, as employers insist on receiving even more advantages from the government, such as the dismantling or the partial or total eradication of parafiscal benefits, to create new jobs through the Law on First Time Employment.

‘Was Act 789 of 2002 not supposedly passed to promote the creation of new jobs?’ the union asks.

‘Could it be that this new demand made by employers will plunge Colombian workers deeper into poverty?

‘Could it be that the Law on First Time Employment is a pilot project aimed at the total dismantling of the parafiscal system?’

The Law on First Time Employment and the eradication of parafiscal contributions for employers creating new jobs is a double-edged sword for Colombian workers.

‘Why should Colombia’s trade union centres view it with caution?’ the union continues.

‘Although it is a proposal generating some new formal economy jobs, workers employed under the Law on First Time Employment are in a much weaker position than those already in formal employment, given the lower level of benefits.

‘On the other hand, there is the advantage that it is not informal work.

‘The debate should therefore centre on the fact that formal employment is needed, but with same level of parafiscal contributions and benefits currently enjoyed by workers.

‘A decent employment law for young Colombians should, at least, provide for fair pay, job stability, comprehensive social security and the right to freely exercise the right to unionise without obstacles.

‘Urgent steps are needed to press the national government, as well as departmental and municipal governments, to allocate sufficient budgetary funds to implement public policies to create formal employment for young people.’

These measures must be taken at legislative level, as well as through social mobilisation.

‘Platforms must be created at every possible level within our departments and municipalities to discuss employment policies and programmes for young workers, and must involve the local authorities, universities, departmental development offices, employers’ associations and, of course, trade unions.’