Our personal take on Sodexo Awareness Week

By Ester Topolarova, Aiste Vaitkevidiute, and Brian Martinez

Following the Sodexo Awareness Week, we, as a part of the  United for Better Dining Services (UBDS) took on the task of clarifying what our group’s aims have been and what they are for the future.

To start off, a dissociation campaign has never been the aim of the UBDS group. For the security of the workers, and so as not to force Colby into a position in which it could hire another corporation like Sodexo, members have committed to pushing Sodexo to improve the employment conditions for the workers. Moreover, dissociation is a far-fetched idea given the administration’s record of deference to third-party food providers in the last decade. Also, Sodexo has taken feedback and improved aspects of the workplace at Colby. In short, as pragmatic, cognizant and responsible activists, we have chosen to try to work with Sodexo (and Colby) instead of attempting to oust Sodexo—which would indubitably hurt the workers.

Why is the coalition driving the campaign primarily comprised of students (and some faculty and staff) and not workers? Workers standing up and voicing their problems could cost them—and job security is ultimately put on the line. Past efforts, namely those of 2013, to organize for improvement of working conditions were not successful. Consequently, the morale and motivation to take an initiative among the workers has been low. From the informal conversations we have engaged in over the years, we have realized that many problems still prevail. Having learned more about the problems that the workers face, UBDS members took the initiative with the informal consent of some of the workers, because being a student at Colby guarantees you a privilege to voice your opinion and demand for justice without fear.

Being transparent with the administration and having accurate information was a paramount objective of our campaign. There are several sources that have been used to obtain data and information for dissemination to the Colby community. Internet research was a source of information about Sodexo Corporation and its general role in the global context. We have also researched data and statistics regarding living standards and health care costs in Maine. The administration provided information about the annual budget for dining-hall services and the details regarding the Colby – Sodexo contract. To learn more about de jure working conditions, UBDS students collaborated with Dining Services management. This collaboration was really helpful and is highly appreciated. However, it is important to note that there was some delay in information sharing. Until the first teach-in on Sodexo, the students organizing this campaign were not privy to specific aspects of the workers conditions at Colby; it was only later that the administration of the Dining Services revealed up-to-date, accurate information to us. Despite this delay, the students have reviewed and incorporated the newly presented information into our demands for the campaign since we want it to focus on long term change.

The crux of the UBDS campaign is job-security. In that vein, we have demanded that Colby and Sodexo work to bring about a wage for workers that is livable; that is, a wage that rises annually at 2.5 percent or according to cost-of-living expenses (depending on which is higher). $15 is our base wage demand. Healthcare is also at the heart of our demands; we believe that workers are entitled to the sort of health benefits that should come along with employment at a prestigious and rich academic institution. Moreover, we are pushing for a space in which workers’ needs and concerns are met with care; that means that paid training must be improved and workers should receive subsidized help for transportation, if necessary. Finally, in seeing this campaign through we hope to break the monopoly on catering services that Sodexo has on campus, and provide local businesses the opportunity to share in the campus demand for food.

These demands speak to the ideals of the UBDS group of students, of course but they also speak to the ideals of the Colby community. If you would like to join us or talk more please reach out to us at ubdscolby@gmail.com.

Peace and power.

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