Sodexho preys on students and employees alike

I admit, with a twinge of pride, that I made Sodexho’s “Enemies List” as a member of the “group of 15 to 20 students” who took advantage of their Free Breakfast for Students Program each morning this semester, as detailed in last week’s Signal.

As soon as I realized Sodexho’s technical error, I made sure to rise early each morning, head to Eickhoff Hall and enjoy a leisurely, free breakfast courtesy of Dick Macedonia, the American CEO of Sodexho, Inc.

One morning, the proverbial gravy train ran dry. I cut my losses and started paying the $3.75 for my cereal in the morning.

However, while reading the Feb. 16 edition of The Signal over breakfast that morning, I nearly choked on my Rice Krispies to discover that the “Free Breakfast 15” and the other hardened bagel criminals would be retroactively saddled with the burden of reimbursing Sodexho for their $1,800 technical blunder.

To put it mildly, Sodexho sure has some nerve.

First, for Sodexho to penalize students for its own mistake is audacious to say the least. The management will consult its Orwellian computer database, detailing the minutiae in the eating habits of the College’s student body and retroactively charge us for a glitch in its system.

Ironically, the computer problem leading to the free breakfasts resulted from the Carte Blanche system that Sodexho foisted upon us.

The amount of hubris contained within this action is astounding. But no matter. According to my right as a red-blooded American consumer, I can issue a loud “harrumph” when displeased with the actions of a company and indignantly take my business elsewhere, right?

Wrong. This is certainly not the case with the food service on our campus.

Privatization of services on our campus and in other kinds of self-sustaining environments operates the same way as Robber Baron company stores during the Gilded Age.

As you know, if you live on campus, a meal plan with Sodexho is mandatory. The corporation is free to gouge us with high prices and engage in questionable business practices without fear of losing customers. And the latter is perhaps the strongest motive for protesting the monopoly that Sodexho holds over the College.

Sodexho’s corporate practices range from unethical to just plain illegal.

Did Jim Crow discrimination end with Brown v. Board of Education, whose anniversary the College celebrated this year?

Apparently not for Sodexho, a company to which we students are forced to fork over thousands of dollars each year.

On April 25, 2005, a federal judge will hear class-action lawsuit filed against Sodexho for alleged systematic racial discrimination in the hiring and promotion of its black employees.

Sodexho has successfully stalled the case since 2001, when 10 employees charged the multinational corporation with racial discrimination.

Since then, the number of plaintiffs in the case skyrocketed to over 2,600. Sodexho’s institutionalized racism will likely cost it $1 billion. Witnesses in the lawsuit charge that Sodexho consciously railroaded its black managers into the less prestigious locations, which they dubbed the “black accounts.”

Additionally, an astounding two-thirds of all Sodexho locations have no black managers, according to the lawsuit.

Just to make clear that my anger resides firmly with the Sodexho executives and corporate stuffed-shirts and not with the workers, we need to call attention to Sodexho’s blatantly unfair labor practices.

Among union folks, Sodexho is reviled for its widespread union-busting tactics. Only between 12 and 13.75 percent of Sodexho employees (excluding non-eligible managers) are unionized.

To achieve this dismally low number, as compared even to its competitors, Sodexho actively engages in anti-union activities.

The National Labor Relations Board has found that Sodexho actively violated workers’ rights by forbidding meetings during scheduled breaks and intensely interrogating employees about their union sentiments, giving them the impression that their jobs were at stake.

Sodexho claims on its Web site that it pays its employees a “living wage,” which they consider to be “between $7 and $8 per hour.”

It doesn’t take an economist to realize that living on a wage of $7 per hour is damn near impossible today, without even accounting for a family.

And these numbers don’t even include benefits, which are hard to come by in the Sodexho family.

I hardly feel guilty that I ranked among the students who took advantage of Sodexho’s free breakfasts. In 1999, the international CEO of Sodexho paid himself $25 million, which is more than 1,700 times the wage for non-union workers.

In 2003, Sodexho announced its full-year profit as a robust $191 million.

I think that the executives in this multinational corporation can afford to absorb their $1,800 computer glitch at the College, without passing it onto the students or further harming its poor workers.

However, the picture is not entirely bleak. Though we now have no choice but to give our money to Sodexho, they operate on a contract with the school.

Enough pressure from the student body about the terrible manner in which Sodexho treats its employees and customers will force concessions from the company in the interests of renewing its contract.

We might have to temporarily live under Sodexho’s monopoly, but that doesn’t mean we must live silently.