Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Sodexho

Dr. Rohini Anand, Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer of Sodexho, will deliver Geneseo's third annual President's Lecture on Diversity on Wednesday, December 7, 2005, at 3:00 p.m. in the Robert W. MacVittie College Union Ballroom.

When I first saw this announcement the name Sodexho sounded familiar but I could not place it. Later someone told me it was the notorious corporation that had attracted so much attention for its vigorous union busting activities, ownership of private prisons, and a class action discrimination suit. I wondered why someone from a company like that had been invited to Geneseo to talk about diversity.

A little Googling turned up one possible reason. The campaign against Sodexho seems to have forced some company changes. Colorado Collge Fair Labor (CCFL), a student group, gives details about their campaign and its successes. Students, labor unions, and community groups can work together and win sometimes.

However, CCFL also concluded that "Sodexho still does not pay its workers enough, still has employees without health insurance for their families, and still runs anti-union campaigns."

Sodexho is a transnational corporation. The U.S. subsidiary may have made some changes but the larger entity has not. Corporate Watch UK has an extensive website detailing Sodexho's bad habits. Read them and judge for yourself.

There are some successes in Canada.

UNITE HERE workers win an organizing campaign at two Sodexho sites in Toronto.

UNITE HERE Canada has begun organizing the employees of Sodexho Canada on the York University campus.

It is harder to win organizing campaigns in the U.S., but not impossible, because U.S. laws are more favorable to companies than to unions and the National Labor Relations Board, especially under the Bush administration, is essentially anti-union.

I don't know what Dr. Anand will tell us about diversity, but I doubt that her experience at Sodexho can teach us much about community. The food service workers, grounds keepers, custodial workers, and others at Geneseo are represented by unions. They don't get paid enough and their working conditions are not as good as they should be, but they are better off working at Geneseo that they would be if that work had been outsourced to Sodexho (or one of its competitors).

I hope that members of the Community and Diversity Commission or the department chairs in their meetings with Dr. Anand will ask her about Sodexho's current actions when their workers want to form a union.

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