A representative of Sodexo Inc., SUNY New Paltz’s current food-service provider, confronted students gathered in the Student Union (SU) on Monday, April 9.
Outside of SU 62/63, where Sodexo’s focus group meetings were held, Students With a Common Interest (SCI) said they gathered to express their distaste for Sodexo Inc. when Bob Griffin, a representative of Sodexo Inc., tore up their signs after being told to leave them alone, they said.
According to SCI President Robert LoBianco, SCI members are displeased with Sodexo Inc. as a food provider and are opposed to renewing a contract with them.
The purpose of the meetings was to gauge student feedback on the dining experience on campus, Sodexo spokesperson Enrico Dinges said. Sixty students registered for the event and were split into groups for meetings at different time blocks. Sodexo Inc. partnered with SUNY New Paltz to organize the on-campus focus group meetings.
During a break in between the first and second meetings, Griffin exited SU 62/63 and began tearing up the protestors signs, according to a University Police report.
Third-year political science major Lisa Wojehowski was one of the few protesters present during that time. Most of the other SIC members were in class, she said.
Wojehowski said she pleaded with Griffin to stop destroying their signs, explaining there was nothing wrong with what they were doing. Wojehowski said he ignored her completely and “acted if she weren’t there.”
Dinges said the incident between the demonstrator and Griffin was a miscommunication.
“His intent was to clean up the signs prior to the next event, thinking that the protesters had finished and left,” he said. “It was just a misunderstanding. An apology was given and that was that.”
LoBianco said he and his fellow classmates, and even professors, have been disappointed by Sodexo’s service at New Paltz. LoBianco said he was disgusted with the controversial issues the company is involved in both on and off campus.
“There is no accountability, and no oversight,” he said.
“We do actually source a lot of products locally … that help support the local economy,” Dinges said in an interview with the Daily Freeman.
LoBianco said he wanted to stress the fact that the “local” businesses that Sodexo is being supplied by includes a Pepsi Co. which is located within Ulster County.
He said there have been dozens of complaints from Sodexo employees worldwide.
In a press release from the TransAfrica Forum, workers complained about separate and unequal treatment between employees of different races or ethnicities:
A Sodexo warehouse worker from Guniea claimed the employees of European descent are always well fed and taken care of, but he and others of his descent sometimes show up to work and are given nothing to eat. A company in Columbia being supplied by Sodexo was given spoiled food leading to more than 60 workers contracting food poisoning.
A Sodexo employee in Morocco said in the report that he and his co-workers fear their employer.
“We do not complain about the supervisor because we are scared of him,” he said in the report.
Human Rights Watch released a study of the labor practices of European corporations in their operations in the United States.
The study showed Sodexo managers have “at times crossed the line to anti-union behavior, unlawful under both U.S. Law and international standards…recent developments indicate that Sodexo still resists workers’ new organizing attempts.”
In a report titled “Voices For Change: Sodexo Workers From Five Countries Speak,” an employee of Loyola University in New Orleans reported that there is no opportunity for workers making lower wages to earn overtime hours. The employee said she had to leave Sodexo and receive outside food industry experience to be eligible to become a supervisor.
“When they see you are close to 38 or 40 hours, you have to leave and go home, even if you are in the middle of a shift, because they don’t want you to go into overtime,” she said.
A Sodexo cafeteria worker at Tulane University, New Orleans, still makes less than $10 an hour after working there for 40 years, according to the forum.
The SCI and other students around the New Paltz campus are outraged with these allegations, according to LoBianco.
Students contend Sodexo has been unresponsive to complaints about the poor quality of food.
“We need to get Sodexo out of New Paltz,” second-year linguistics major Chacho Guenancia said, “It’s fucking terrible. My stomach has never been the same since I started eating here.”
SCI will hold a forum to discuss campus food issues and possible alternatives to Sodexo. LoBianco said the forum will be held on Thursday, April 26 in SU 407.