Food fight

Sodexho has proposed a new union contract for campus food service workers. The contract compromises the company’s dress-code demands, while employees will lose their seniority.

The contract is similar to that of the current food service provider Aramark, but some frustrated employees have already decided to move on when Sodexho takes over this summer.

Union chapter president Carlos Montano said that while he considers the revised dress code a slight improvement, he is still fed up and will not be reapplying. “It’s their policy not to hire ‘freaks,'” he said. “I refuse to work for that.”

In February, Sodexho representatives told current food service employees that their jobs were safe at a forum. But by April the company had changed its tune, telling employees they were required to reapply for their jobs. Many workers worried that their wages and benefits were unsafe.

Union representatives have been in contract negotiations with Sodexho since the beginning of May.

Most employees have not seen the new contract proposal, and only 27 out of more than 65 Aramark employees have reapplied for their jobs as of last week.

Employees also feared that Sodexho’s strict polices on dress code – including the prohibition of tattoos, earrings and multi-colored hair – would prevent them from being rehired and break the union as a result.

According to the proposal, employees hired before July 1, 2005 would retain the same hourly pay they received with Aramark, but seniority will be lost. Other changes in the contract include a 401k plan that would be matched 100 percent after four years instead of seven, a weekly instead of biweekly paycheck, and required background checks.

Any color of hair will be acceptable, but employees with unnatural colors will be required to wear hats. Tattoos will be allowed unless they contain nudity, racist symbols or other offensive images. Watches, rings and dangling or clip-on earrings will be prohibited.

Current Aramark employee Sara Kerns agrees with Montano and said she won’t be returning.

“I object to the treatment of their employees,” she said, saying she can’t work for a company she says has a history of racial discrimination, union-busting policies and investments in the prison industry.

Students for Unity co-coordinator Kayla Goldfarb is concerned that the company might wait until after the July 1 deadline to rehire employees at lower pay.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Sodexho will use the deadline to take away [employee] wages,” she said.

Employees who have reapplied said they will wait to see what happens.

“Nowadays, any job is a good job,” said Bubba Jones, who has worked with Aramark for nearly seven years. “Rumors have been flying around. Until you here it from their mouth, why worry about it?”

“If they want to give me a good offer, I’ll take it,” food service worker Lynnea Searls said.

Union representative Debra Kidney would not comment on Sodexho’s contract proposal, saying that she has yet to discuss it with the employees. They will wait until the contract between Sodexho and Portland State has been finalized to go forward with the negotiations.

She said that Sodexho will open job positions to the public May 17, and she hopes that regardless of how many employees are rehired, Sodexho will honor the union. “All I can do is trust what they have said,” she remarked.