By Theresa Schliep
To express solidarity with Sodexo employees, Fordham Students United held a teach-in in Flom Auditorium on Wednesday. Sodexo employees are not guaranteed to be rehired if Fordham chooses to forgo Sodexo’s current food services contract and instead accepts the bid of one of the three other companies involved in the request for proposal (RFP) process. These companies include Aramark, Compass Group and Culinart.
“We want to make sure that it’s clear that students support our food service workers since they invest so much time in making sure that they provide the best services they can,” said Mohan Seshadri, FCRH ’16, one of the founders of Fordham Students United and organizers of the teach-in.
Both the 2012 and the 2015 RFPs say that vendors are not required to retain current food service employees. However, according to information provided by Vice President of Student Affairs Jeffrey Gray, vendors are encouraged to interview and retain employees of good standing. Both RFPs acknowledge that the vendor is responsible for all employment matters.
At the teach-in, Sodexo employees in attendance discussed their employment histories with the food service provider. Sandy Pope, representing the Sodexo workers in the Teamsters 810 union, was also in attendance.
Concerns of the employees included losing pensions, family health care, wage decreases and loss of employment.
“I have seen so many graduations come and go that if I did not see another I would be lost in life,” said Irma Mahbir, one of the employees in attendance.
Mahbir commutes for two and a half hours from her residence in Queens to the Rose Hill Campus. Mahbir has been employed for 36 years in Fordham dining facilities. She also discussed her involvement in obtaining benefits.
“The pension that we get was not easy,” said Mahabir. “We fought for years and years to get that pension.”
In an email forwarded to several university faculty members and staff, Gray stipulated that the potential vendors understand they must treat all current employees with respect, dignity and fairness, and that all current employees should be given reasonable opportunities to retain their positions.
“All of the potential vendors also understand the nature, mission, and values of the Fordham University community, and the expectation that they will engage in reasonable and good faith negotiations with a union on behalf of the represented employees,” he noted.
Still, some at the teach-in echoed the sentiment that Fordham’s potential termination of Sodexo’s contract and subsequent dismissal of the food services employees contradicts Fordham’s Jesuit tradition.
“I find it antithetical to our values as a Jesuit institution,” said Seshardi.
Some students expressed concerns that even if Fordham does terminate its contract with Sodexo, employees face aforementioned repercussions, but there would be little improvement in food quality.
In a 2014 Food Management list of “Leading Management Companies Ranked by Revenue,” Sodexo is ranked third, Aramark second and Compass Group first.
Dr. Mark Naison, professor of African American studies and history at Fordham University, commented that he was concerned about the companies involved in the RFP process.
“I am very suspicious,” said Naison in a phone interview.
“A number of large corporations involved in contracting services are trying to switch workers from full time to part time in order to cut health care costs.”
He said that Aramark has a reputation for maximizing the number of part time workers order to minimize health care costs.
Pope reiterated this concern at the teach in.
“60 percent of Aramark’s work force is part time,” said the union president.
Laura Sanicola contributed reporting.