A better Tulane, a better New Orleans
Saturday January 19th 2019

Article in The Progressive Magazine

Tulane Graduation Marred By Crackdown
By Matthew Rothschild, May 14, 2010

Tulane University is having its graduation ceremony this weekend, but it’s less than a joyous occasion for a few graduating seniors.

They’ve recently been reprimanded by the university, and two of them have been threatened with arrest if they ever dare step foot on the campus again.

Read the full article.

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Tulane Demonstrates Their Commitment to Social Responsibility by Disciplining Students Fighting for Workers’ Rights

Although Bruff workers organized the walk out of April 23, four students–three TUSC members and one supporter who is not a member–were charged with five infractions including “harassment or intimidation,” “abusive or disorderly conduct,” and “interference with the freedom of expression of others.” Three were found responsible for “Failure to comply with the directions of University officials.” None of the students were found to have engaged in any kind or harassment, abuse or intimidation. This is probably because the event was carried out in the spirit of love and respect.

The University has refused to explain the reasoning behind its finding that students failed to comply with the direction of officials because they did not register the event, which seems illogical in light of the fact that it was not the students’ event to register. The University did not follow procedure, failing to file a written report prior to filling charges as required by the Student Code of Conduct. The charges were entirely baseless, and it seems that this is an attempt to dissuade students from pursuing organizing on campus in the future.

The SEIU (Service Employees International Union) provided logistical support to the workers who engaged in a strike on the 23rd. When folks at the SEIU learned that three members and one supporter of TUSC had been charged by the University, even though TUSC had not organized the strike, this is how they responded. TUSC works independently from the SEIU, but we are nonetheless very grateful that they have chosen to support student’s right to support political actions without being disciplined.

This goes far beyond the campaign for workers rights that’s going on right now–it sets a precedent for all political action at Tulane, which says that if you are critical of the administration, you will be punished.
That isn’t what our University is about. If you’re concerned about this, please e-mail Scott Cowen at email hidden; JavaScript is required and let him know that you believe Tulane should allow students to support their workers without fear of retaliation (there is another link to do this at the bottom of the page).

Tulane Demonstrates Their Commitment to Social Responsibility by Disciplining Students Fighting for Workers’ Rights

It has recently come to our attention that Tulane University students are being targeted and intimidated for standing by the University’s core mission–serving the community. The university has filed disciplinary Code of Conduct violations against several students, who are actively working alongside Sodexo food service workers as they fight for better working conditions.

An Unfair Labor Practice charge was filed with the Federal Government against Tulane for its role in intimidating union supporters. Food service workers walked out of work in a one-day strike on April 23, to protest unfair labor practices by their employer, Sodexo. Since the strike, there are reports that Tulane Police have been posted at the dining hall Bruff Commons, effectively policing conversations. Students who were most vocally supportive of the workers were sent letters from the Office of Student Affairs charging them with, among other things, intimidation, interference with the freedom of expression of others, and failure to comply with University officials acting in the performance of their duties. Three of the four students charged were convicted of failing to comply with the directions of University officials.

Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised to see this kind of behavior coming from a university that would rather take responsibility for stray cats on campus than accept responsibility for its food service workers. Nonetheless, it is deeply disturbing that Tulane is choosing to play an active a role in the intimidation of these workers and students.

Corporations like Sodexo that made over $1 billion in profits in 2009 are contributing to poverty and social deterioration by not respecting their employees’ rights—and Tulane has an obligation to be accountable for the actions and policies of its contractor Sodexo.

Just a few weeks ago, Tulane President Scott Cowen was awarded the “Loving Cup Award” for his role in rebuilding New Orleans post-Katrina. But Tulane’s recent reaction against student leaders fighting for the rights of campus food service workers have been anything but “loving.”

As the leader of such an academically and historically prestigious university, Tulane President Scott Cowen has the ability to demand Sodexo management clean up its act–or risk losing their lucrative contract. But instead, Tulane is actively impeding on the rights and free speech of students working on its own campus who are standing up for vital members of the Tulane community.

Tell Tulane’s president to drop all charges against students, who are working with Sodexo workers as they fight for worker’s rights. Click here to send a letter to Tulane President Scott Cowen.

We are also glad to hear that a Tulane Parent has chosen to write an open letter to Scott Cowen after finding out that the administration had retaliated against students who support the food workers. Here’s what she had to say:

Barbara’s Post:
Letter to President Scott Cowen from a Tulane Parent

Dear President Cowen,

I have been proud to have my daughter as a member of the Tulane class of 2012. The University’s values and your leadership encouraged our daughter to attend Tulane and us to support that decision. Tulane is a national university that takes responsibility to rebuild and improve its hometown. Scott, your leadership gave us confidence that you would continue to lead the university through storms in the community, both literally and figuratively, while appreciating the contribution of all people. We remember you telling the parents at Destination Tulane 2008 that it is Tulane’s belief that all students who attend this University have opportunities that others do not have. It is the responsibility of those, so blessed, to give back to the community through service learning and community service. Since the University’s core values were so compatible with ours, we felt confident to send you our daughter.

You can imagine my disappointment to learn workers have filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge against Tulane for the university’s role in preventing Sodexo dining hall workers from speaking with organizers and their colleagues from other schools on the Tulane campus, as well as for surveillance of the workers as they demonstrated for their right to form a union. These are some of the lowest-paid New Orleanians—the hard working people who serve food to the campus community and are a comfort to the students. These workers have stood up to rebuild their lives, families, and communities too—but Sodexo refuses to respect their rights and has in some cases retaliated against them for standing up for a brighter future. It deeply concerns to me that Tulane is charged with playing a role in the intimidation of these workers. It also concerns me that Tulane is taking a hard line against students who have stood up to support these workers and has issued Code of Conduct violations for four of the most vocally supportive students. These students have taken to heart your message about helping to give back to the community, and this level of discipline sends a message to the student body that free speech is not tolerated at Tulane.

President Cowen, these actions are inconsistent with the values that brought our family to Tulane. I urge you to get involved to resolve this. Meet with workers and hear their stories. Talk to your students who feel so passionately about this issue, and at the very least, give them a fair hearing about the events on campus. As an institute of higher learning and a campus that is integral part of the New Orleans community, you have a responsibility to set a higher standard—both for employing contractors that are committed to rebuilding the city, and for supporting students who stand up for what they believe in.

Please be the model of compassion and leadership for the students, the workers, the University and the greater New Orleans community that you have been in the past.

Thank you.

Barbara Shulman
Disclosure: Barbara is an International SEIU staff member, working in the union’s research department

Thanks Barbara!

Now is the time to stand up for the rights of students and workers in solidarity. All we want is an open, honest discussion, where the workers, who have been silenced for far too long, have the same voice as everyone else. The administration’s actions show that they are not interested in having that discussion.

More to come soon,

Only in New Orleans
Only in New Orleans

Ms. Tremeda speaks out

Sodexo Workers Protest, Tulane University, 4/23/2010 from Sophielab on Vimeo.


At 6:45 am on Friday, April 23, 2010, Sodexo employees of Bruff Commons stood outside at the picket line, and effectively got 92% of their coworkers to go on strike, making a public statement of disapproval to Sodexo’s negligence of basic rights and respect. In spite of Sodexo management’s attempt to keep buisness going as usual by hiring temp workers, many students decided to boycott Sodexo services for the day. This was an amazing show of solidarity and a really important step for the community.

At 11:00 am, a mass of Sodexo workers from Tulane and Loyola, students from both of the universities, members of the community, and union reps marched through Bruff, the LBC, and around campus, singing, cheering and letting the cause be known. Afterwards, there were speeches from politician and community organizer James Perry, several inspiring Sodexo employees, students supporters, and others. For the rest of the day, workers, students and other supporters spent time encouraging activity in the rest of the community. There was a 13 ft. banner (supported by balloons and a TUSC member on top of a wall) at the PJs on the corner of Willow and McAlister for much of the afternoon, answering questions to interested passersby and getting more people aware of the situation. The Banner read “Tulane Menu of Exploitation. Sodexo Revenue: $20bil. President Cowen’s salary: $623,000. Sub and coke: $9.51. Ms. Joyce’s wage: $9.50.”

Separately, but no less exciting, the two demands that we (TUSC) presented to Cowen in our first letter are progressing as well! We have received written confirmation on the guarranteed right for all workers to return in the fall from Ben Hartley, Sodexo’s area manager. Workers are expected to receive this guarrantee in letter form this Friday (April 30).

Our second demand that Tulane adopt a Labor Code of Conduct is being reviewed by the Social Issues Committee. Although Cowen is still neglecting responsibility for the treatment of the workers on campus, we are definitely generating reactions. The next challenge is making sure that the progress yields true results and is not just an attempt to temper activity until the end of the semester- but our voices won’t be appeased without true change, no matter how long it takes. That said, finals are coming up and will inevitably be stressful for everyone, but once over, summer action begins. So, whether your in town or not, show support and don’t forget about the workers here in New Orleans who are going to be fighting the same fight through the summer and into the fall.

We’ve obviously got a lot ahead of us, but let’s take time to appreciate the significance of these changes, to continue in the spirit of humanity and solidarity, and most importantly, to honor the people who are courageously standing up for their own rights.

Videos, pictures and other media should be available soon!

Huge thanks to everyone who’s been present, active, spreading the word, supporting the workers and strengthening the community from within.

Anyone who is going to be in New Orleans during the summer and wants to get more involved, please contact us at email hidden; JavaScript is required!

50 out of 54 Workers go on STRIKE

Tulane food workers went on strike today–50 of 54 workers scheduled to worker at Bruff Commons chose not to cross the picket line! Students came out to support the workers in large numbers.

Photos and more info soon.

students march in solidarity with workers on strike at Tulane and Loyola
students march in solidarity with workers on strike at Tulane and Loyola

Sodexo Worker Responds to Corporate Letter

A Worker Responds to Sodexo’s “Open Letter”
By Jeannette Smith, Sodexo Worker at Tulane University – 5:32 PM – April 22, 2010

This letter is cross-posted on the Huffington Post.

This week, the Vice President of Employee & Corporate Relations at Sodexo did an interview with Fox Business News saying that “our employees tell us that Sodexo is a great place to work… the majority of our employees recognize even where they’re active recognize they don’t need that union to create opportunities for themselves at Sodexo.” But, food service workers with Sodexo across the U.S. are fighting for the right of workers to come together to raise standards. Just last week, Sodexo workers were joined by students and community activists for actions in 11 states and nearly 20 campuses.

As a Sodexo food service employee for 6 years, and someone who has worked in this industry for over 16 years, I have a lot to say about my job and the working conditions my coworkers and I experience under Sodexo’s watch.

All across the country, Sodexo employees like me have come together for better conditions like respect, a voice at work, wages that can support our families, and affordable health plans. For too many of us, making ends meet is a daily struggle on Sodexo’s low wages–and health insurance is out of reach. I rely on Section 8 to subsidize my housing costs and some of my other coworkers must also turn to government assistance for housing, food stamps, and health care.

I work at Tulane University in New Orleans. I took this job with hopes of advancing into management–in fact that’s what I was told would be possible. I received the “employee of the month” award last year and I was promoted to an entry level management position. I felt my dreams were coming true. But I soon discovered opportunity without training is still a missed opportunity. I requested training and help, but after being ignored I just did the best I could though we were short staffed and often couldn’t complete all our duties.

In my experience, Sodexo does not want their employees to form a union despite what they say to the press. My manager told us the union wasn’t good. Then my manager asked me forcefully if I signed up to join the union and that if other managers found out I was as good as fired. I felt threatened when she did this and don’t think anyone should have to go through that. I know this is not right and the federal government is investigating whether Sodexo violated my civil rights.

When I saw what Sodexo said in their blog and on TV I was hurt. It was like they were completely ignoring everything we’ve been bringing to their attention for months now. It was like we didn’t even exist. Where is the affordable health insurance? Where is our opportunity to form a union without management intimidation at every turn? Where are the full time hours and advancement? I wish what Sodexo says is true–but it is not the reality for the front line Sodexo employees.

Last week, I was excited to see Sodexo workers, students, and other supporters all stand together across the country. Even workers from France and Britain came to participate, Workers are willing to do whatever it takes to be heard, to stop being mistreated, and to win respect. I’m proud to be a part of this effort to “clean up Sodexo,” and create better jobs that we need so badly right now.

Joyce and Patricia Speak to Tulane/Loyola Rally

Here are videos of Joyce and Patricia, two people who have been with Tulane a lot longer than Scott Cowen, telling a crowd of students and faculty why they’ve stayed at Tulane even as working conditions have gotten worse, and why they’re fighting for justice.

Miss Joyce, April 15, 2010

Miss Patricia, April 15, 2010

Miss Patricia, April 15, 2010
Miss Patricia, April 15, 2010

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In 1948, the U.S. ratified the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many of the rights enumerated in Articles 23, 24 and 25 are being denied to workers on Tulane’s campus.

Article 23.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  • (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  • (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  • (4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 24.

  • Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Article 25.

  • (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  • (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

How do these apply to Tulane?

All of these rights have been violated on Tulane’s campus. Tulane contracts with Sodexo, and has the power to dictate the terms of that contract and whether or not it is renewed. Tulane is therefore responsible for Sodexo’s practices on our campus. Here are the issues:

Right of Recall: Most Sodexo workers at Tulane are laid off every summer. Sodexo has no obligation to rehire any of them. Although Sodexo claims that it gives each employee a “return to work” date before laying them off for the summer, Sodexo and Tulane have refused to make this promise legally binding. This means that any worker can be fired and not rehired, with absolutely no transparency or accountability. Tulane and Sodexo don’t want to make a real commitment to rehiring the workers, because they can and have used this behind-closed-doors process to intimidate workers and try to prevent them from organizing. *NOTE: Workers have been granted the right of recall for the fall of the 2010! Thank you to everyone who helped in achieving this victory! But it is only one small step.

Living Wages: Employees who have been working at Tulane for years struggle to make ends meet with the wages Sodexo provides. Although Sodexo claims that its average “starting wage”  of $8/hr is higher than the average in all of Louisiana, many workers who have been here for 5, 10, all the way up to 40 years make just barely over $8/hr, which is not a livable wage in New Orleans. Not giving our employees a living wage denies them “just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity,” and tarnishes Tulane’s reputation as a school committed to helping the New Orleans community.

Health Care: Sodexo claims to offer its employees “a robust healthcare benefits package.” But most Sodexo workers at Tulane can’t afford this package. For Miss Joyce Bradley, who has been here for 40 years, the package would be 40% of her paycheck. Mr. Herb works a second job because the healthcare costs so much of his paycheck. And Miss Doris came to work in excruciating pain for 3 years because she could not qualify for the hip operation she needed under Sodexo’s benefits package. For whom is this health care robust?

In our society, and especially on Tulane’s campus, employers are expected to take care of their employees. But Sodexo’s expensive health care plans deny employees “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

Dignity and Respect: Sodexo workers are routinely shown disrespect by their managers–even employees who have shown amazing loyalty and dedication to Tulane, working here long before we contracted with Sodexo and staying here as working conditions got worse because of their love for the students. See Worker Testimonials for more on the way Sodexo has denied basic dignity to its workers.

Threats and Intimidation: At Loyola, Sodexo fired Miss Terry Shelley, supposedly for letting a police officer and her supervisor’s children into the Orleans Room for free, something that has been common practice there for a long time. Miss Terry has been an outspoken advocate for the union, and charges have been filed with the NLRB over her firing. At Ohio State University, it was found that Sodexo had wrongfully fired an organizing worker, and the worker was reinstated.

Other workers have reported being threatened or intimidated by management. While on the clock, all Sodexo workers on campus were required to attend secret, behind-closed-doors meetings with professional union busters, and told that if they did not go they would be written up. Sodexo is abusing its power and taking up time that workers are supposed to be preparing food for the community to frighten and intimidate them. The union doesn’t have the power to require workers to do anything. How can they say that they aren’t getting in their side of the story, when they tell workers that if they don’t accept a side of the story most workers know to be false, they will lose their job?


Ms. Terry from Loyola tells the City Council how Sodexo wrongfully fired her for organizing.

Photo by Brian Lawdermilk.

Joyce Bradley

Miss Joyce
Miss Joyce

Joyce Bradley, Tulane Worker: After all of Those Years…They Didn’t Even Have the Respect.”

Joyce Bradley, Sodexo Worker from New Orleans 6:23 PM – April 13, 2010

I’ve been here the longest out of anyone I know. I never imagined I would be here 40 years. Since this is a prestigious college, I bragged that I worked at Tulane University and the people that I’ve met over the years. I was hoping to move my way up–and climb the ropes–to management. I was glad to be working at a university. We had benefits when I started, like hospitalization. Now I make $9.51 an hour. I am paid every two weeks and typically take home $450. I pay $350 a month in rent.

The Sunday before the storm hit, my mother and I evacuated to the Superdome. The first day, my mother passed out from the heat. She was bed ridden and in a wheel chair. We were in the Superdome for one week. Since she was so ill, they took her somewhere else, without telling me–and then they loaded us up and drove us away somewhere else. I had no idea where I was until we were right outside of Dallas. This was the scariest thing I ever had to go through-not knowing if my mother was OK. My mother was a tough lady–she was a domestic worker–she lost her voice due to mini strokes.

I was in Dallas for a week–in the convention center. I found a worker who helped me search for my mother–my family members found out we were separated and started searching. As soon as I knew that she was in a nursing home in Morgan City; I caught a plane back to Louisiana.

I started working again in September 2006–a year later. In that year after the storm, I was moving from hotel to hotel. My mother’s house had over six inches of water. When we returned, there was mildew everywhere and everything was destroyed.

My mother owned a home but we couldn’t afford the taxes after the storm so it’s blighted–$11,000 in taxes were owed. Memories come back to me when I see that house–memories of my childhood and teenage years. I lived in that house my whole life.

Since 2000, I had to take care of my mother more intensively–there was a sitter–she couldn’t be left alone.

I heard about the assistance program through Sodexo. They gave us money right after Katrina– it was based on how many quarters you had worked–I received $2,000–they were offering to put people up on campus, but that went belly-up.

I was the cashier since 1975 and would wish students good luck on their exams and tell them what was good to eat that day. I was a fixture at the cash register. Some come back for alumni week and they stop by Bruff Commons to see if I’m still here. Or if they were on campus or in town they swing by–that’s a plus. Knowing that the kids appreciate what I do gets me through the work.

After all of those years–it was heartbreaking after all of those years to show back up after Katrina–after all I had already been through–they didn’t even have the respect. It was like they hit me in the face when they told me to go upstairs and clean the tables. I can’t even think about it, it’s too painful. If I thought about it, I would have cracked from stress. I’m a proud woman so I’m going to do my job no matter what they tell me to do but this isn’t fair. I’m going to make it work no matter what and focus on the positive.

Anthony and Doris at the City Council Meeting

SEIU New Olreans0127.jpg

Ms. Doris telling the City Council about her mistreatment by Sodexo. Photo by Brian Lawdermilk.

Here is a video of two Sodexo workers telling the New Orleans City Council has Sodexo has been treating them.

Anthony and Doris Speak to City Council


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