A better Tulane, a better New Orleans
Tuesday September 2nd 2014

Students Sit-In at President Cowen’s Office: We Shall Not Be Moved!

On April 21, 2011, the Tulane University Peace Action Committee held a sit-in in President Cowen’s office. We first came to President Cowen with our concerns 15 months ago. Since then we have fought tooth and nail to get a Labor Code of Conduct in place, so that the workers on our campus would have some basic protections on the job. We met with resistance at every turn. We were delayed with bureaucratic loopholes. We were told by Tulane that we should contact Sodexo, and when we contacted Sodexo, we were told to contact Tulane–neither party was willing to take responsibility for doing something about the reprehensible way workers were being treated on our campus. The legitimacy of our claims was constantly being questioned by President Cowen and the administration–the very people who should have been helping to get a code of conduct in place, not resisting it.

It has been a very difficult campaign; and in April, we decided that enough is enough: it was time to sit-in.

Now let us be very clear on this point: we did not sit in for the sake of making trouble. We sat in because we wanted to demonstrate to President Cowen and the Tulane Administration that we are not going to back down; that we are strong; that we believe wholeheartedly in our cause. And we sat in because we knew that it was the only way to get our voices heard. We sat in to tell President Cowen that we would not accept a Labor Code of Conduct that did not have input from workers and students.

The voices of students and, even more importantly, workers, have not been a part of the process of creating a Labor Code of Conduct. The Social Issues Committee failed to hold any open hearings; failed to consult with workers; failed to listen to students; and failed to cooperate with TUPAC as we attempted to involve the voices of workers and students in the Labor Code of Conduct Process. The result? A proposal that failed to address the core concerns we have raised (more on the progress of the Labor Code of Conduct in our next post).

Our sit-in was written about in the Chronicle of Higher Education and truthout. Tulane was just one of many schools where students staged sit-ins to protest the disgusting way that college administrators across the country have taken the side of Money over Morals, and chosen to support Sodexo over the men and women who clean our buildings, prepare and serve our food, and keep our campuses running.

The Tulane University Peace Action Committee sends its solidarity to those students who were arrested for taking part in non-violent demonstrations just like our own: 7 at Emory, 27 at the University of Washington, and 5 at William and Mary. Luckily, no students were arrested at Tulane.

Solidarity forever!

Worker Speak Out a Huge Success!

From the bottom of our hearts, TUPAC would like to thank everyone who came out and made our Worker Speak Out on April 7th a huge success. There is nothing more powerful than hearing workers’ voices firsthand, out loud.

Since no one in Tulane’s administration wants to listen to what workers have to say, it is events like this that get the message out there: our workers are not being treated with dignity and respect, and they aren’t going to put up with it anymore. Administration officials refused to meet with Carina Mieses when she was in town, just like they have refused consistently to meet with Tulane’s own workers. By supporting these events, you are sending the message to our administration that the voices of workers matter–they are a part of our community, and they deserve respect and basic protections on the job.

Workers Speak Out! Photo by Nicole Harvey
Workers Speak Out! Photo by Nicole Harvey

PRESS

Our good friend Shaquille Taylor, who has worked at Bruff since he graduated from high school, published an editorial in the Hullabaloo, writing, “We’re thankful for the opportunity to work at Tulane and get to know students, but we just want Sodexo to treat us with respect.”

Matt Freimuth, a TUPAC member, published this editorial about why he got involved in the campaign.

Finally, here is an article that gives an overview of the event.

This is going on all over the country. Carina Mieses and local workers spoke at Emory University last week. One commenter wrote: “OK, so i’ll admit that I thought that SWS [Emory's pro-worker student group] was exaggerating on some of their claims about Sodexo. But hearing the same disturbing stories from Sodexo workers at different sites around the world is sobering. I didn’t think stuff like this still happened… Much less with a company that I’m supporting with my meal plan. I’m not really comfortable with that anymore.”

Here is an editorial from the Technique, Georgia Tech’s student newspaper: Consensus: Dining in Disgust. Thanks to the Technique editorial board for taking such a strong stance! Here’s a brief highlight from that article:

Sodexo failed to meet even the barest minimum government standards. Sodexo has a reputation for both subpar service and labor issues at schools nationwide, which have led to protests, boycotts and strikes at at least nine other universities. On campus, the poor quality of Sodexo’s food and service is so well-known that Tech’s food has become a popular target of criticism.

Though the lion’s share of the blame for this lies with Sodexo for its failure to provide adequate services, Tech is certainly not free of fault. Tech takes pride in holding itself to a higher standard. Tech has the means to pressure Sodexo into improving service, yet has remained complacent with the status quo.

Sound familiar?

If you want to express your concerns about Sodexo’s abuse of its employees abroad and right on Tulane’s campus, or even just tell him you think we need some policies governing these things in place, you can e-mail him at email hidden; JavaScript is required.

Don’t forget to e-mail us at email hidden; JavaScript is required if you want more info!

April 7th: What’s at stake?

On Thursday, April 7th, Carina Mieses will share her story of working for Sodexo in the Dominican Republic. Here are some highlights from other Sodexo worker’s stories in that same country:

“According to Sodexo workers of the Pueblo Viejo mine, a colleague had
asked for her daily duties to be changed because she discovered that she
was pregnant. The workers claim that Sodexo required the colleague take
a pregnancy test to prove her pregnancy prior to getting a different work
assignment. She was eventually moved to work in the laundry room, where her
tasks included standing for long periods and working amidst extremely hot
machines.”

“One worker reported a herniated disk in her back which
was diagnosed after eight months of working for Sodexo. Due to her injury, her
doctor asked that she take a leave of absence from work, and upon her return,
request that her daily duties be changed to ones that are less physically taxing.
When this employee brought her doctor’s note to her supervisor, she alleged he
threw it in the trash, accusing her of paying the doctor to give her a note and
stated there is nothing wrong with her. Although she has asked for a change
in her daily duties to protect her health, she reported that her request was
not granted. When discussing her supervisor’s response, she summarized her
perception of the general work environment as: “It is with fear that one works,
you work in fear with him.” Because of her need for money, she continues to go
to work, despite the pain in her back and against the recommendations of her
doctor.”

“Also at the Pueblo Viejo mine, a case of food poisoning caused hundreds of
mine workers to become ill. The case at the mine received national coverage
throughout the Dominican Republic when it broke in March 2010. Sodexo
eventually admitted responsibility for the food poisoning and it was clear that
unsafe food was served and caused the illnesses. 11 Workers interviewed for this
VOICES FOR CHANGE Sodexo Workers From Five Countries Speak Out 7
report were part of the team who say they informed Sodexo management that
this batch of food looked decomposed and bubbly. The workers maintain the
rotten food was notwithstanding this distributed to the employees of the mine.”

You can read more in the TransAfrica Report.

Is this the kind of company Tulane should be doing business with? Don’t take our word for it. Take the worker’s words. Come out on April 7th, hear more stories like these and find out what you can do to help change this situation.

workersmed

Interesting Facts

Here are a few interesting facts:

- The richest 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all American households combined
- The effective tax rate on the nation’s richest people has fallen by about half in the last 20 years
- Roughly 45 million Americans spend a third of their post tax income on food — and still run out monthly
- And one in four kids goes to bed hungry at least some of the time.

(Thanks to this info from Mark Bittman at the New York Times.)

It’s time we asked ourselves whether Tulane wants to perpetuate this situation, or change it.

April 7th: Worker Speak Out and Loud Music for Living Wages

This past semester we’ve been finding out about some of Sodexo’s activities outside of New Orleans–forcing women to take pregnancy tests as a condition of employment, stealing overtime, feeding employees tainted food, and firing and intimidating workers who speak out. In light of these revelations, we do not believe it is morally acceptable for Tulane University to continue a business relationship with Sodexo.

On April 7th, you will have the opportunity to hear about these issues firsthand. A Sodexo worker from the Dominican Republic will be here to speak out publicly about her experiences there. Carina Mieses served food in a gold mine in the Dominican Republic. When she began to speak out about the way Sodexo abused her and her co-workers, she was fired. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get the truth from someone who has seen it firsthand. The Workers Speak Out event will be held in Freeman Auditorium at 7pm on April 7th, 2011. There is no admission fee: all we ask is that you come with open ears and an open mind.

At this event we’re going to hear about some pretty serious human rights abuses, and how our school, Tulane University, supports the company that does it. To lighten things up, after the Worker Speak Out, at 9pm we will hold Loud Music For Living Wages at the Boot! This is a concert to raise money and awareness for the fight for justice at Tulane. Keep posted for more updates about these events and other upcoming events.

Workers Speak Out, April 7th 2011

TUPAC Calls on Cowen to Investigate Sodexo

Members of the Tulane University Peace Action Committee delivered a letter to President Cowen on February 15, 2011 (full text below). As we say in the letter, any time Sodexo is investigated, wrongdoing seems to be uncovered. We will continue to update this website as new information comes to light. It is our hope that President Cowen will takes steps to ensure that a) Sodexo is not overcharging or defrauding Tulane University, and has never done so in the past, and b) Tulane University does not associate itself with the shocking abuses you find detailed in the reports and articles linked to below.

Dear President Cowen,

Almost exactly one year ago, we wrote to you expressing our concern over the treatment of our campus food service workers. We have advanced numerous constructive proposals for acknowledging and addressing these issues and we have met with resistance at every level and every step of the process.

New information has come to light over the past year, which adds another dimension to our questions about Tulane University’s relationship with Sodexo. This information leads us to wonder whether Tulane University should be doing business with Sodexo at all.

Last summer, it was revealed that Sodexo had been actively defrauding the State of New York, accepting rebates from food companies but billing the state for the full cost. Sodexo paid $20 million to settle the case. This incident came just five years after Sodexo paid out $80 million to settle a class-action lawsuit regarding widespread racial discrimination in hiring and promotion practices at Sodexo.

Originally, we raised issues about Sodexo because of the shocking, upsetting stories that we heard firsthand from worker’s on Tulane’s campus. Now we are learning that these are not isolated incidents, but that Sodexo is internationally notorious with regard to human rights and labor abuses.

According to a report issued in January by TransAfrica Forum, Sodexo required women in Colombia to take pregnancy tests as a condition of employment, and failed to provide safety equipment to mine workers. In Guinea, workers were subjected to blatant racial segregation. In the Dominican Republic, Sodexo accepted responsibility for poisoning hundreds of its employees with tainted food. Sodexo routinely intimidates, harasses and fires workers when they exercise their right to free speech and try to speak out about the abuse they face at the hands of their employer. Indeed, it seems that any time Sodexo is investigated, in the U.S. and internationally, wrongdoing is uncovered.

New Orleans was the only American city mentioned alongside Guinea, Colombia, Morocco and the Dominican Republic in the TransAfrica report. Seeing Tulane’s name associated with these disgusting actions makes us sick—and we hope you feel the same.

We have seen many updates lately about the Tulane Empowers campaign. The noble mission of that campaign is tarnished and undercut by Tulane’s association with this reprehensible corporation, which extracts a profit from New Orleans by abusing its citizens. Sodexo actively disempowers its employees by paying them poverty wages, treating them like criminals, disrespecting their rights and degrading their humanity. In light of this information, we believe that continuing a relationship with Sodexo is unconscionable on the part of the University.

Phyllis Wise, President of the University of Washington, recently sent a letter to Sodexo asking them to explain the accusations raised in the TransAfrica report, which were brought to her attention by students, and threating to cut their contract unless they could account for these allegations. We hope that you, like President Wise, will take a proactive role in addressing this issue. This is not only internal to Tulane; it is about the international practices of one of the world’s largest corporations, which sets global standards for the service industry. Tulane University has the power to force this company to reform, and in doing so, empower thousands of Sodexo employees across the globe, including those men and women who cook and serve the food to Tulane’s students each and every day. We encourage you not to pass up this opportunity to take a stand for what is right.

We expect a response from you, detailing concrete steps that your administration will take to investigate Sodexo and address the question of whether it is appropriate for our University to be associated with this company, by February 24th. We have continued to work with the Social Issues Committee to write and implement a labor code of conduct at Tulane. This process, however, is not adequate to address the broader question of Tulane University’s relationship with Sodexo. As a national leader known for finding community solutions, and our campus leader who we turn to when we see things happening here we believe are not right, we hope to see you take concrete steps to address our concerns.

—————————————

We delivered the following reports and articles along with the letter:

- New York Times article on a race bias lawsuit against Sodexo, settled in 2005 for $80 million.
- Announcement of a $20 million settlement with the State of New York over defrauding their public schools
- TransAfrica Forum’s report of Sodexo’s international human rights abuses
- A copy of the letter sent by University of Washington President Phyllis Wise to Sodexo’s CEO, George Chavel

Shaq and Mat

A Reflection on Tulane and Sodexo

I’m Shaq, and I work at Bruff; I’m Mat, and I study at Tulane. We are 20 years old, and we have a message for the Tulane community. We have different perspectives, but we see the same problem.

A Worker’s Perspective:
Hi, I’m Shaq, I’m 20 years old, and I work at Bruff. The best part of my job is to see the students, bring them a smile when they are down, and put love in the food I prepare to teach them about New Orleans and its history. After four years at Bruff, I earn $8 an hour. For the summer months I remain on contract, but there is no work and no money. I’d like to get another job to save money to go to college myself, but its hard to find a good job just for the summer and during the year my schedule is constantly changing. My job can be tiring and dangerous. In one incident I cut my finger and was out of work for a whole year recovering. But what I want to change the most is the way that managers treat workers like me. I feel they treat us like children, and they ignore our suggestions to make our jobs better. They know our work can be dangerous so they require us to use hairnets, cutting gloves, and slip resistant shoes, but we have to pay for protective gear out of our wages. This is especially hard to take when we earn so little. There are no opportunities for promotions—and raises are few and far between. We want to have a career path so we can live a decent life. Most of all we just want to be treated with respect.

A Student’s Perspective:
I’m Mat, a 20-year-old sophomore and Political Economy major. When I first learned about the workers’ rights abuses, one word comes to mind: hypocrisy. I transferred to Tulane excited about service opportunities available here. Connecting to community members would enrich my college experience and my life – it has done neither. In fact, Tulane has watched silently while mistreatment continues against Sodexo campus workers. I’m concerned that alleged human rights abuses have been raised against Sodexo in seven countries, it settled a lawsuit for $20 million for overcharging the New York school system, and also settled a class action lawsuit for racial discrimination. Is this the kind of company that a community-minded university works with? TUPAC has asked the university to adopt a labor code of conduct, but it’s languished in the Social Issues Committee of the University Senate for months. It seems like the university sees us as children, just as Sodexo’s workers say they’re treated like children. We see the fair and reasonable path forward as offering a code of conduct that covers all employees at Tulane, including the employees of contractors like Sodexo. It should guarantee that everyone earns a living wage, everyone can work safely, and everyone is treated with respect. Now, that would be a commitment to the community.

On April 7th, students, professors, and university members can show their commitment to the community at a TUPAC event at 7PM in the Freeman Auditorium Woldenberg Arts Center. We will have the opportunity to speak with a worker fired for organizing at a Sodexo gold mine operation in the Dominican Republic, as well as speakers and representatives of community allies.

By Shaquille Taylor and Matthew Freimuth

TransAfrica Report in Washington Post

The Washington Post published an article today on the TransAfrica Report detailing human rights and labor abuses carried out by Sodexo against its employees across the globe.

Let’s again take this opportunity to address the falsehoods put forward by Sodexo in trying to hide their disgusting, reprehensible conduct. They claim that only a “small number” of workers have made claims of abuses. This is the same claim Sodexo tried to make when over 90% of Bruff employees decided to walk out last semester in protest of degrading treatment at the hands of their employer. Sodexo seems to think that if it tells enough lies, people with believe them. But anyone who has spoken to Sodexo employees knows that their abusive policies are not limited to small number of employees–in fact, it’s hard to find an employee, at least here at Tulane, who hasn’t experienced degrading treatment from their managers. Of course, Sodexo illegally fires and harasses workers who do speak out, so it’s not surprising that employees are fearful of telling the truth. As the TransAfrica Report demonstrates, the truth will continue to get out in spite of Sodexo’s illegal intimidation tactics.

There is no reason for Tulane to associate itself with such a morally repugnant company. It’s time we set some standards for the way our workers are treated here on campus (there currently are none) instead of letting this multinational corporation known for abusing its employees set those standards for us! Let’s not let Sodexo tarnish the reputation of one of the greatest Universities in the country!

A New Semester: TransAfrica Forum issues report, U. Washington President Takes Action

It’s a new semester, and we have some exciting new updates for the campaign!

TransAfrica Forum is a non-profit global justice organization which was a major player in the anti-Apartheid movement of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. On January 14th, they released a report detailing Sodexo’s abuses of human rights around the globe, focusing on sites in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, the Republic of Guinea, Morocco and the United States, and specifically on New Orleans.

You can read the full report here. Some of Sodexo’s actions worldwide are truly shocking and infuriating: women in Colombia reported being required to take pregnancy tests as a condition of continued employment; in Guinea, some Sodexo cafeterias are racially segregated, and workers make as little as $0.38 cents per hour.

TransAfrica Forum’s report builds on an earlier report by Human Rights Watch that surveyed Sodexo along with other multinational corporations. It points out the way that Sodexo’s poverty wages create a burden on the American taxpayer:

The New York Times notes that food stamp use
is at a record high with more than 36 million people relying on the program for
basic necessities. The program now feeds one in eight Americans and one out of
every four children.(58) To qualify, a family’s net income has to be less than 130
percent of the poverty line (though families with significant assets or savings
beyond their annual income may not qualify.(59) (For a family of four, that comes
to $28,655/€21,280.) For a Sodexo worker who makes $7.50(€5.57) an hour, he
would have to work 74 hours per week to reach this income threshold. Even at
$10.50 (€7.79) per hour, a Sodexo worker would still have to work nearly 53
hours per week to surpass the income threshold for this anti-hunger program.
Many Sodexo workers also are eligible for other federal anti-poverty programs,
such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants,
and Children (commonly known as WIC),60 and free- and reduced-price school lunches.

Some of the report’s worker interviews are very revealing about why it’s difficult for workers to fight for their rights against Sodexo’s corporate culture of hostility and disregard for low-wage employees:

One example of the limited usefulness of company-initiated monitoring of
working conditions comes from Sodexo in Morocco. “We do not complain about
the supervisor because we are scared of him,” a Sodexo worker reports. “Once
a year, Sodexo send us an anonymous and confidential questionnaire with
56 questions where we could complain about him, but we don’t say the truth
because we are scared.”(106)

We encourage you to read the report for yourself. It speaks volumes that New Orleans is the American city which TransAfrica felt warranted comparison to some of Sodexo’s most outlandish worker rights violations in Africa and Latin America. And this raises the question: Why is Tulane doing business with a company that egregiously violates ethical and legal standards for the treatment of its employees?

That very question was posed to University of Washington President Phyllis W. Wise by students; and President Wise, taking the kind of simple action that we’ve been asking from President Cowen for an entire year, sent a letter to Sodexo CEO George Chavel asking him to explain the concerns many of us have with Sodexo’s practices and its failure to live up to its stated policies.

You can read the letter here. Why can’t President Cowen take this very basic step, and show some leadership on the issue of the treatment of campus workers, and Tulane’s association with the immoral acts of Sodexo? The University of Washington is demonstrating that it is committed to social justice. Tulane has been a national leader in this area, the first University to institute a public service graduation requirement, and it’s time we step up and take action on ensuring that we are contributing to the solutions for the problems of global poverty and mistreatment of workers, rather than helping to create and exacerbate those problems.

Stay posted for upcoming actions and events we have planned for this semester. If you haven’t already, don’t forget to sign up for our mailing list to get a weekly update on the campaign and more info on meetings and events we’re holding.

taf

Remembering that this is not a fair fight: Cowen ignores Sodexo’s unethical and illegal behavior

For over a year, we have been waging a campaign to get living wages and basic respect for Tulane’s food workers. It’s important to remember, however, that this is not a fair fight. Sodexo routintely uses unethical and at times illegal tactics to intimidate workers. They illegally fired Ms. Terry at Loyola’s campus and have used all of the tactics described in a report released by Human Rights Watch in September (view the report here). [Note: TransAfrica will be releasing another independent report on Sodexo in January; New Orleans will be the only U.S. city discussed in that report].

This report details the many ways Sodexo has intimidated and abused their workers to prevent them from organizing for better conditions. Ultimately, the report concluded that Sodexo has “a management culture of deeply imbued hostility to workers’ organizing rights. Under US labor law, Sodexo is entitled to infuse anti-union hostility into its management culture. But this would not be the policy of a company adhering to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, ILO core labor standards and other international norms. If, on the other hand, local managers’ actions are contrary to company policy, they reflect a failure to push down to local management levels Sodexo’s commitment to freedom of association.”

Here are some highlights from that report:

“Despite claims of adherence to international standards on workers’ freedom of association, Sodexo has launched aggressive campaigns against some of its US employees’ efforts to form unions and bargain collectively. Sodexo managers have used many of the tactics described above that, while legal under US law, violate international standards requiring non-interference with workers’ organizing rights. These have included: holding captive-audience meetings in which workers must sit through managers’ diatribes against trade unions without being able to hear from union representatives in the workplace at any time, including during breaks or lunch periods; requiring front-line supervisors to carry management’s anti-union message into one-on-one conversations with employees; and threatening workers that they can be permanently replaced if they exercise the right to strike for improved wages and conditions. But in some instances, Sodexo has crossed the line to anti-union behavior unlawful under both US law and international standards.”

“The firings were the most effective tactic Sodexo used to undermine workers’ organizing efforts, but Sodexo management also held a series of captive-audience meetings with anti-union videos. In these meetings, managers told workers that wages would be frozen if they voted for the union and pressured workers to revoke the union authorization cards they had signed.”

“While acceptable under US law, forcing workers into mandatory captive-audience meetings to watch anti-union videos and listen to anti-union speeches, without opportunity for workers to hear from union representatives at the workplace, runs counter to international standards on freedom of association.”

“These unfair labor practices are so egregious as to make a fair election impossible.”

“Recent developments indicate that Sodexo still resists workers’ new organizing attempts. The neutrality agreement between Sodexo and the unions covering organizing procedures at selected company locations ended in 2009.[229] Since then, Sodexo has again expressed hostility toward unions and workers’ organizing efforts, and taken steps to thwart union formation.”

“When workers began an organizing effort in late 2009, management responded by…demanding that workers sign an anti-union petition, interrogating workers about their union activity, and telling workers that their organizing efforts were under surveillance.”

Sodexo has used all of these tactics at Tulane and Loyola.

So what does this tell us about what’s happening at Tulane and Loyola? President Cowen and his administration continue to claim that there are no worker’s rights issues on our campus, and refuses to acknowledge any wrongdoing on the part of Sodexo. This means one of two things: President Cowen is genuinely oblivious to the way Sodexo operates, or he is consciously working with Sodexo to prevent workers from getting living wages and basic respect.

E-mail President Cowen at email hidden; JavaScript is required and make sure he’s informed about Sodexo’s illegal and unethical business practices.

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