Sodexho: SGA VP quote ambiguous

The “Eye on SGA” column in The Signal last week upset some Sodexho employees and Student Government Association (SGA) members, leaving them wondering why the article ran before ambiguous statements in it were clarified.

The column, in a statement attributed to executive vice president James Gant, left some readers under the impression that Sodexho has a program to hire newly released convicts to work at the College.

A Sodexho manager said there is no such program at the College, and Gant said he never meant to suggest that there was.

“No such program exists on this campus,” John Higgins, general manager of Dining Services, said. “Nothing like it.”

“It doesn’t sound familiar to me,” Jaya Bohlmann, vice president of public relations for Sodexho, said.

However, a September 2004 article in the Arizona Business Gazette said Sodexho was participating in a similar program, but nowhere near the College.

According to the article, Sodexho was working with a division of the Arizona Department of Corrections that places inmates in full-time jobs so they have employable skills when released. Sodexho hired inmates from an Arizona state prison to work at a state hospital, where Sodexho was providing services at the time, the article said.

Gant, who was employed by Sodexho for two years at an Ocean County assisted living facility, said a manager told him during his time there about programs designed to offer jobs to people who have served time.

He mentioned the practice at the Sept. 27 SGA meeting after Steve Viola, junior class treasurer, suggested that SGA look into Sodexho’s hiring practices. The suggestion was prompted by a report that on Sept. 18, police investigating an altercation between two Sodexho employees found one of the employees had warrants for his arrest.

At that point in the meeting, Gant said he had worked for Sodexho before and heard that Sodexho participates in a program to offer employment for people who have had trouble with the law as part of their rehabilitation.

Some students at the meeting were under the impression that Gant meant he had worked for Sodexho on campus before and heard about the program being implemented at the College.

“I wasn’t speaking factually,” Gant, who has never worked for Sodexho at the College, said. “I didn’t have facts.”

Rather, he meant to suggest that whether such a program existed could be looked into. He based the suggestion on what he was told by his former Sodexho manager at a different location about a year ago, he said.

Bertha Van Putten, a Sodexho employee who serves food in Eickhoff Hall and has worked at the College since 1972, said she does not know anything about such a program.

“That’s the biggest lie I ever heard,” Larry Stevens, a Sodexho employee who works the cash registers in Eickhoff, said. “I am very upset and angry about that.”

Stevens, who has worked at the College for 15 years, said the story should not have been printed and that Sodexho employees deserve an apology. The Signal should not have printed the claim without knowing about the subject in question, he said. The employees are trying to make money to feed their families, and to help the students, he said.

Higgins, upon reading the column Wednesday, called Magda Manetas, SGA advisor, to find out how the statement originated.

“I appreciated (Higgins) having gotten in touch with me (on Oct. 4) as I hadn’t had a chance to read the article that misrepresented what Gant said at the last SGA meeting and therefore was unaware of the problem,” Manetas said via e-mail.

“I understood (Gant) to be communicating at the meeting that Sodexho has (such) a program . at some sites, not that we have such a program here at (the College). Unfortunately this was not made clear in the article. (Gant) and (Higgins) were able to talk and clear up this misunderstanding (on Oct. 4).”

The article did not specifically say that Gant said such a program exists on this campus, only that Gant said Sodexho has such a program.

Sodexho performs background checks on all employees, Higgins said. An employee could have warrants issued for his arrest after he has cleared a background check and been hired, Higgins said. For example, if an employee does not pay a parking ticket, and then fails to appear in court, a warrant could be issued for his arrest in some cases, Higgins said.

Some ways Sodexho does recruit employees for the College is by posting job opportunities at local churches and at nearby community colleges with culinary programs, Higgins said.

SGA has been working closely with Sodexho for the past year and has established “a strong relationship with Sodexho that shouldn’t be tainted by something like this,” Gant said.

Gant clarified his statements and said he was misquoted in The Signal at the Oct. 4 SGA meeting