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The Struggle at UC Davis

Battling Sodexho

by SETH SANDRONSKY

Sodexho food-service workers at University California Davis and social justice groups such as Students Organizing for Change have been busy mobilizing for improved labor conditions. Their goal is for the company,s 500 contracted-out workers to become university employees, represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.

The university and Sodexho, the French multinational firm, see the matter a bit differently. These two parties, however, have made some concessions to part of Sodexho,s work force in talks which excluded the workers. UC Davis and the company, for example, decided to give non-student (career) workers, about a third of the Davis total, pay raises of $1.00 to $3.00 per hour in mid-October. Hourly wages of student workers, the bulk of employees, stay the same. Meanwhile, a number of career workers who got wage hikes also had their hours cut, said Max Alper, lead organizer for AFSCME Local 3299. The union represents food-service employees at the other nine UC campuses and five medical centers.

In this "win some, lose some situation at UC Davis, the Sodexho food-service workers earning higher wages with lower hours now are hard-pressed to address the problem. The reason for this is simple. They and their student co-workers labor without a union contract in place. Absent a union to represent them in workplace matters of hours and wages with their corporate employer, Sodexho workers are a little like cats without claws in a fight. Thus the plight of being private-sector workers who want union representation brings the Sodexho workers and their allies full circle to the labor conditions that sparked the Davis labor solidarity movement early this year.

In an echo of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s in the American South, two dozen people sat down in a non-violent civil disobedience rally at a Davis intersection in support of the Sodexho workers this May 1. Police arrested the protesters on misdemeanor charges of unlawful assembly. Later, the Yolo County DA chose to prosecute them. Pre-trial motions, which include the role of UC Davis in the prosecution of the demonstrators, continue February 4, Alper said.

In the meantime, the company has agreed with UC Davis to pay a greater share of the health-care coverage for the career workers, plus a monthly $100 stipend to help offset their living costs in general, effective January 1, 2008. The union-free UC Davis contract with Sodexho is set to expire in June 2010.

SETH SANDRONSKY lives and writes in Sacramento. He can be reached at: ssandronsky@yahoo.com.