Students suggest increased Dining Services budget

Multiple students have come together to form an activist group called United for Better Dining Services (UBDS). They are demanding higher wages and better support for Sodexo employees at Colby.
UBDS, which has been active since the beginning of the fall semester, has generated much administrative attention through their campaigns on behalf of the dining services workers. Earlier this year, Director of Dining Services Larry Llewellyn released a public response to the group’s manifesto. In the two-page document, he clarified some specific points that UBDS had investigated, including that each part-time employee is given two sets of uniforms, employees are given one 15-minute break for 6-hour shifts and two for 8-hour shifts along with a 30-minute unpaid meal break, and that “all Sodexo staff are free to converse with any student, staff or faculty on campus during their breaks or after their work period.”
In response to the document, and in a follow-up to their semester-long research, UBDS held a meeting on Friday, Feb. 13 to propose a new budget for Dining Services. Members Ana Sofia Solis Canales ’18 and Ester Topolarova ’17 began the event with a presentation analyzing the cost of healthcare, travel vouchers, new uniforms, and higher wages for all 80 full-time and 60-70 part-time Sodexo workers. Their proposed budget ranges from $989K to $3.6 million, depending upon three categorized options (see table on following page).
Following the presentation, Hiya Islam ’15 opened the conversation to the community members in attendance. They asked the audience to evaluate three main questions: “Did we forget something that you would like us to address? Did the budget make sense ­— can it work? And how can we make it work?”
Brian Westerman ’16 started by asking where the budget money would come from, and Islam tabled the question in order to first focus on the presentation’s content. Another student asked how Colby’s Dining Services compared to other NESCAC schools, and Marina Arcuschin ’16 responded that the other colleges are either self-run or use a different dining service company, so there are few grounds for comparison. Topolarova later commented that UBDS is inspired by a larger national movement, which—as of last year—started encouraging all the Sodexo-focused campaigns to concentrate on improving the contracts to directly affect the worker’s conditions and the college communities.
Students asked Llewellyn to clarify whether dining services workers were employed under Colby or under Sodexo, and if they are given the ability to work when school is not in session. “Sodexo is employed on a management contract. We don’t own the equipment or the maintenance,” he answered. “Sodexo operates a number of summer camps around Maine, so when Colby isn’t in school, [the employees] still have opportunities for work. Last summer, everyone who wanted to was able to work.”
The audience debated whether the budget should come from Sodexo or Colby, and Spanish Language Assistant Clara Morales asked, “Why can’t Sodexo take less benefits? Sodexo is making huge benefits, so why aren’t they offering a collaborative part on this?”
Llewellyn clarified: “This is Colby’s money, not Sodexo’s. They pay us a fee to manage their budget.” Assistant Professor of Global Studies Maple Razsa commented: “Really these are Colby’s employees— they’re Sodexo only by name, but Colby employs Sodexo and decides the wage. For us thinking about this as a community, do we want a campus that’s run more cheaply at the expense of the lower-paid workers who live among us?”
The conversation quickly turned back to the feasibility of the budget, and Brian Martinez ’17 said, “A lot of you probably know that President Greene recently doubled Colby’s debt, and it’s a matter of allotting those funds…. It’s a feasible thing to add to the Dining Services budget. I think it’s do-able.”
Razsa asserted that the minimum category is “potentially not ambitious enough. It would be good to look at a range of living wage studies and determine the real cost of living first.” Topolarova noted that her research had concluded that $10.10 is the living wage, but that it is higher for employees with children.
With this in mind, many of the audience members asserted their support for the medium and maximum categories. “From what I understand, a lot of the part-time workers do have children, so I think the minimum is too minimum,” Kardelen Koldas ’15 said.
Westerman brought this conversation back to the point of feasibility, asking “how does this number (1-3.5 million dollars) compare to any of the departments here at Colby?” Topolarova responded: “I think that you are comparing two things that aren’t really comparable.”
“From a feasibility perspective, I’ve already proposed that wages go up to $10 in this year’s budget, and that hasn’t been turned down yet,” Llewellyn added. “That initiative to raise the wage was pushed by Sodexo. We’ve increased the base rate by 50 cents each year. The happier the employees are, the better my job is, so it’s in our best interest to push these.”
To conclude the discussion, a few audience members asked what other college campuses pay their workers, and if other dining corporations or a self-run dining service program would be more beneficial. “We want to look at this on a Colby level, not what the rest of the world is doing,” UBDS presenter Canales said.
“We have to live up to an ethical standard. I think we need to push these ideals and we can, it’s just a matter of making it happen,” Martinez added.
Associate Director of Dining Services Joseph Klaus ended the discussion by saying that, if the students aspire to such a significant budget increase, “there are three ways to pay for it: from tuition, fundraising, or cutting out expenses.” Islam said that UBDS is in the process of planning another public forum to further evaluate those three options, and discuss a greater plan of action.
After the meeting, Islam commented on UBDS’s work with the administration. “We’ve been communicating with Larry [Llewellyn] since January, and we are really appreciative of him and Joseph Klaus being here.” Islam, Arcuschin and Milton Guillen ’15 also met with President Greene in October 2014 to discuss their campaign. “He said that he will back what the community collectively cares about and that his personal politics will not direct the course of action,” Islam said.
Islam also added that the movement, which has grown since the release of a UBDS web page and online petition, is “a long-term goal about worker’s safety, so we can change people’s lived realities.”
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