As Sodexo shareholders gathered for their annual meeting last Monday in Paris, a delegation of the company’s employees and their unions from the UK, France and the US, called for a global guarantee from Sodexo to improve pay and working conditions and guarantee the right of Sodexo workers to join a union without opposition.
At a press conference at the Crowne Plaza Republique hotel, Sodexo workers and union leaders spoke out about a wide array of anti-worker practices by the company in recent years, including complaints of discriminating against minority workers, refusing to allow workers to form a union without company opposition, neglecting to pay some workers for all the hours they worked, and failing to pay nationally agreed-upon wage rates in the United Kingdom.
Paris press conference
‘We’re trying to form a union, but Sodexo forced us into mandatory anti-union meetings, showed us anti-union videos, and brought individual workers in for one-on-one meetings with supervisors,’ said Brenda Espinoza, a food service worker at Doctors Hospital in Manteca, California.
‘People are scared because the bosses have never come at us like this before.’
The unions representing Sodexo workers across the globe issued a joint statement calling on the company to act in a socially responsible manner, guarantee decent salaries, and ensure the freedom to join trade unions.
Those unions include the CFDT, CGT, and FO in France; the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in the US; Unison in the UK; and IUF, the global union federation for hospitality workers.
‘Sodexo frequently fails to provide livable-wage jobs and too often interferes with workers who try to form unions in the US,’ said Mitch Ackerman, an executive vice president of the SEIU, who was travelling with the workers.
‘We’re calling on Sodexo to change its ways and allow all of their employees in the US to form a union without fear or interference so they can raise their living standards.’
Sodexo workers in France and their unions attended the event and expressed concern about the treatment of American workers.
‘The CFDT Service Federation is in solidarity with the SEIU action,’ said James Bokongo, secretaire federale of the Fédération de Services CFDT.
Said Jean Michel Dupire, secrétaire fédérale of CGT Commerce et Services: ‘The militant CGT workers at Sodexo are in complete solidarity with the struggles of US workers, led by their union SEIU, to improve pay and to get a guaranteed right to join the union.’
In the United Kingdom, more than 200 Sodexo workers at an NHS hospital in North Devon started 2010 with successful strike action over the company’s failure to abide by nationally agreed wage rates and terms and conditions.
Staff working as cleaners, porters and cooks walked out at midnight on January 4, for 48 hours.
Before serious talks began between Unison and Sodexo, the company was refusing to pay hospital cleaners sick pay. This meant that ill, already low-paid staff, had the choice of going to work or not getting paid.
‘Unison members at Sodexo work in key jobs. Without their hard work, hospitals, schools and councils across the country could not function,’ said Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary.
‘But Sodexo must pay workers what they deserve, and not undercut national agreements on pay, terms and conditions.
‘Unison is here today to show Sodexo that the combined strength of some of the world’s biggest unions is behind these workers.
‘Together we will stand up for our members’ right to decent pay and fair terms and conditions.’
After the press conference, the delegation communicated with shareholders inside and outside of the company’s annual meeting in Issy-les-Moulineaux.
US Sodexo workers delivered petition signatures from thousands of Sodexo employees across ten American States telling Sodexo management ‘that it’s time to raise standards for all Sodexo workers and we want the freedom to form a union.’
The SEIU General Fund, a Sodexo shareholder, submitted written questions per the French Code de Commerce regarding the company’s progress in addressing issues of discrimination in the United States and its willingness to enter into discussions to sign a global agreement to respect employee and union rights.
‘As a signatory to the UN Global Compact, Sodexo often states that its employees are amongst its most important assets,’ said Ron Oswald of the IUF.
‘In practice the reality for Sodexo workers, in an economic sector where workers are too often insecure and woefully remunerated, can fall short of both Sodexo’s own stated standards and the standards we would expect from a global company.
‘To allow Sodexo workers the opportunity to advance their working and living standards, the IUF calls on Sodexo to guarantee their employees access to the fundamental rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining and to do so across the entire company operation worldwide through engagement with workers and representative unions at national and international levels,’ Oswald said.
Sodexo’s global track record calls into question their commitment to social responsibility, as the examples below show:
Working without pay – United States
Given the low wages many Sodexo workers are paid, it’s especially remarkable that they sometimes don’t even receive everything the company owes them.
For example, at a school in New Jersey, Sodexo janitors were awarded back pay and Sodexo was fined after the US Department of Labor found that ‘the company had employees working off the clock, and was having employees use 2 time cards to keep track of overtime.’
The investigation found that thirteen employees were owed 24 hours of overtime each.
According to the case narrative, ‘Employees in some schools came into the workplace and started to work and then did not punch in until their scheduled time or they would punch out and then go back to work.’
Disrespecting nationally agreed wage rates – United Kingdom
There have been a number of cases across the UK’s National Health Service, where Sodexo has held down wages, terms and conditions.
In late 2009, 40 Sodexo staff at Liverpool Women’s Hospital had to threaten strike action to get the pay raise and back pay they had been waiting for since 2006.
At South Manchester University Hospital Trust, more than 600 Sodexo workers had to threaten to walk out in December 2007 to get their pay raise and back pay.
Racial Discrimination — United States
In April 2005, Sodexo agreed to pay $80 million to settle a race-bias suit filed by thousands of African-American employees who charged that they were barred from promotions and segregated within the company in one of the biggest race-related job bias settlements in the US.
However, a news story in the United States, which aired on 12 January 2010, reported that ‘about a quarter of the company is African American.
‘Only about 12 per cent of the managers are African American, which is not changed very much from five years ago when the lawsuit was settled.’