By Laura Sanicola
Students know them by their first names – Nancy, Frances and Gloria, to name a few. They grin and greet students with a “how you doing, baby doll,” while swiping into the Marketplace. Many have worked at Fordham University since before the students were even born. But with the request for proposals echoing the potential to terminate Fordham’s long time relationship with food service provider Sodexo, Fordham students are fighting to ensure that Fordham’s equally longstanding relationship with Sodexo’s employees remains.
“They’re nervous,” said Sandy Pope, a union representative from 810 Teamsters, that represents Fordham’s food service workers. “I try to assure them but rumors abound, like that everyone working longer than five years will be let go. “
On Tuesday, Pope visited both the Rose Hill and Lincoln Center campuses to speak to students about ways they could get involved in spreading awareness about the union’s current provisions for the Sodexo workers.
By then, students had already sprang into action through social media, circulating an online petition over the weekend. It asks Fordham University “to fulfill their moral obligation to the workers who are important members of the Fordham Community.” Its main requests are that Fordham, if it is to switch food service providers in June, “employs all the current workers and maintains their current wages and seniority, preserves the workers’ retirement and medical benefits and labor contract in full and commits to maintaining a fair working relationship with Teamsters Local 810.”
The petition originated from the student group Fordham Students United, (FSU) which has previously campaigned for higher salaries for adjunct professors at Fordham.
As of Tuesday night, the petition had collected 180 signatures.
“As members of a Jesuit institution we have a moral obligation to support Fordham workers, and we sincerely hope that our university will make it clear to all bidders that the workers, their contracts and their union must be respected in these negotiations,” said Mohan Eshadri, FCRH ‘16, and a member of FSU.
Fordham issued a request for proposals in Dec. 2015 after announcing that it would terminate its contract with Sodexo and open itself up to new bidders.
Last week, Sodexo revealed that the four dining companies involved in the Request for Proposals (RFP) process are Sodexo, Compass Group, Aramark Corporation and CulinArt Group. In June, a decision will be made about the future food provider at Fordham’s campus. Fordham has no legal obligation to uphold the stipulations of the contract if it changes food service providers.
“They come to me saying they’ve heard they might have to reapply for their jobs, jobs they’ve held for over twenty years,” Pope said.
According to Teamsters 810, there are approximately 225 union employees of Sodexo Food Service on the Fordham Rose Hill and Lincoln Center Campuses covered by a collective bargaining agreement with Sodexo until 2020.
However, if Sodexo is outbid in June by other food service companies, then it will no longer be obligated to work with Teamsters 810 or continue to provide any stipulations in its current contract.
“Sodexo has been a good employer to work with,” Pope said. “We don’t think there are going to be any issues. We just want to make sure that the food service workers know that we have their backs.”
Fordham’s liaison in the RFP declined to comment on this issue at the time of publication.
The labor contract between Fordham and Sodexo workers has seniority provisions which protects older workers and provides a fair way to decide on promotions and pay raises, comprehensive company-paid family medical, dental and prescription coverage, a benefit pension plan with a company contribution of now over one dollar an hour going to retirement, regular wage increases and promotional step increases. Sodexo workers currently make between $10.50 an hour to $18 an hour for higher skilled, more senior workers. The majority make around $12 hour, according to Pope.
“It’s taken a long time for us to achieve those provisions for the workers,” Pope said. “Its how Frances the cashier, who has worked here for so long, gets to sit on his throne in the Rose Hill cafeteria.”
Sodexo also provides employment for workers with physical and mental disabilities, a program that Pope is unsure if the competing bidders have but is certain they are not obligated to follow.
“Those workers are especially nervous about losing their jobs,” Pope said.
On Wednesday, March 2, FSU will hold a teach-in about the contract Sodexo’s food service workers have. According to FSU, “students and other attendees will have a chance to hear Fordham food service workers themselves talk about why this is so important to them, how vital it is that Fordham ensures the preservation of their current labor contract, with benefits, seniority, anti-discrimination and union intact.”