Sodexho contract incites boycott threat

The company slated to take over campus food services will be boycotted and protested if it comes to Portland state, students told the administration yesterday, saying that the company is anti-union and uses shady business practices.

“If the contract is signed, student government will be taking action next year,” student government president-elect Erin Devaney said.

French multinational company Sodexho beat out current food service contractor Aramark last fall for a 10-year contract with Portland State, causing upset among union workers who fear that wages and benefits will be cut and jobs will be lost when the company takes over.

Students told associate director of auxiliary services John Eckman that they will rally behind the union workers and fight to keep Sodexho off campus.

“We care about the workers,” said Kayla Goldfarb, coordinator of Students for Unity, a student activist group, at the meeting. She encouraged the administration not to sign the contract and “stop it before it starts.”

Sodexho representatives assured workers last February that the conditions of their current union contract with Aramark would be honored, but workers now say that Sodexho is requiring all employees to reapply for their current jobs and will not guarantee employment or wages. They also fear that a new dress code prohibiting large earrings, visible tattoos and multi-colored hair may threaten the jobs of many workers who already have them.

Emily Blakeslee, communications coordinator for Students for Unity, said she worries Sodexho could use their dress code as a way to avoid rehiring workers, saying “it seems like a very fishy backdoor way to break a union.”

If Sodexho hires back less than half of the current Aramark employees, the union would be disbanded.

Blakeslee told Eckman that Sodexho also has a history of bad relations with unions, racial discrimination and considerable stock in the prison industry overseas.

“Sodexho is the wrong company for Portland State,” Blakeslee said after the meeting. “Besides all that, they provide low-quality food at higher prices. Students will continue to actively protest and resist Sodexho’s presence on campus.”

“We know [Sodexho has] discriminated in the past,” Goldfarb said. “They’ll do it again.”

“All three companies [that bid for the contract] have shady business practices,” Eckman said, adding that Aramark is also involved in the prison industry.

He said that a focus on sustainability influenced the decision to choose Sodexho. The new cafeteria will include more organic food options, something the administration considered important to students. He added that the committee responsible for reviewing each company’s bid voted “overwhelmingly” for the company.

When asked if it were possible not to go through with the contract signing, Eckman said, “I think anything’s possible.”

Portland State is currently in contract negotiations with Sodexho, and Eckman said that the negotiations process must be continued but that nothing was set in stone. “Sodexho is not done. It’s not going to be railroaded in.”

“The [Aramark] employees have made it clear that they like where they are,” Devaney said. “Sodexho is the worst choice of the three food service providers.”

No representatives of Sodexho were present at the meeting to comment.

Union chapter president and food service worker Carlos Monta�o is very pleased with the outpouring of student support. “I can’t do a sit-in,” he said. “That would be nine hours of work I’d be missing. It’s nice that the students are there to pick up the slack of what we can’t do.”