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BLC presents petition on working conditions to Sodexo

By Hannah Schuster and Elianna Spitzer

Section: News

December 2, 2016

Students and workers filed into the office of Sodexo’s general manager and presented him a petition with about 300 signatures calling for Sodexo to ensure workers have their full 40 hours and hire more 40-hour employees to avoid overworking and long lines.

Workers said they are often working 32, 36 or 28 hours which is a concern because they have to support themselves and their families. “I was hired as a 40 hours a week employee and I should be getting those 40 hours,” said Gary Mendez.

Workers also expressed concern that they are overworked because Sodexo does not have enough employees. They want Sodexo to place more workers at certain locations during busy times of the week.

Specifically, workers mentioned Einstein’s, Currito’s and Sub Connection and said the Pho station is sometimes not open because there is no one to work it. “Everywhere is so busy. It’s no reason to cut our hours,” a worker said to Andy Allen, the general manager.

Marta Turcios works at Curritos and is frustrated, not that her hours have been cut, but that they have been changed. She used to work from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., giving her three and a half or four and a half hours of prep time before Curritos opened at 11 a.m. or 12 p.m., depending on the day. Now, she works from 9:30 to 5:30 which is a concern because she wants to get home to her kids. She also has less time to prepare ingredients that will last the day.

On some days of the week, Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, there are only two employees working at Curritos, according to Turcios. There used to be an additional employee who could refill ingredients like salsa and guacamole while the others served the students.

Now, if Turcios is making more salsa, students are waiting in line and growing frustrated. “Every day I feel sad to come into work,” said Turcios.

Workers, like Mendez also expressed concern that supervisors or managers are doing jobs that should be union work.

“When we walk through the door we see 4 managers and 4 employees, [it’s] wrong,” he said in Allen’s office.

Allen said he recognizes employees might feel overworked or pressured to take overtime due to the size of the staff he has. “Nothing would make me happier than to be fully staffed,” he said during the gathering in his office. A portion of positions remain unstaffed and he posts requests to fill these positions about every two weeks.

Transportation creates a major obstacle to filling empty service positions with full time staff. Brandeis’ campus is not as accessible as campuses where Allen has previously worked such as Harvard or Simmons. Those campuses were accessible by Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority trains, also known as “the T.” Brandeis is on the Fitchburg commuter rail line.

Workers in the dining and food service industry often do not have cars and rely on public transportation to get to work. The commuter rail costs $6.75 one way compared to a trip on the T which costs $2.50. Allen is looking into creating a shuttle that would run between campus and the green line riverside station (10-15 minutes from Brandeis) at convenient times for workers. An increase in accessibility may make Brandeis a more desirable workplace, said Allen.

Scheduling may also pose an obstacle to working a full 40 hours per week. Positions and hours are distributed through what is called a “bidding process”, mandated by the Sodexo union, UNITE HERE Local 26. The bidding process takes place at the beginning of each school year. Positions and their hours are posted and workers submit their preferences. The positions are then distributed based on seniority. The worker who has been at Brandeis the longest gets preference for hours and positions over a new hire.

Changes in operational hours enacted this year have altered work hours. “As the students tell us what they want, schedules get adjusted, and with that, some workers unfortunately are affected,” said Allen. Lower Usdan is now closed on the weekends and Upper Usdan has extended hours. Upper Usdan had the “most dramatic change in business this year.” The changes have impacted what hours are available to workers and where.

Managers are still looking at when and where they need workers as a result of the new hours. “Every workforce has challenges and my job is to work through them one at a time,” said Allen.

Allen oversees 133 union employees who work at various locations around campus, from the coffee stand in Mandel to Sherman Dining Hall. In the past eleven months that Allen has held his position, he has not seen a change in the number of full time positions.

Allen would not state how many workers are full time or, on average, how many hours they work, stating that he considered it personal information.

In response to the petition and complaints voiced by staff at the meeting, Allen sat down with management to reevaluate scheduling. “I committed to the shop stewards that we would get together and go over each and every one of these challenges as well as the challenges that I face,” said Allen.

They will make changes if they believe they are necessary and would improve the working environment. “In any food service you are either moving forward or you’re moving backward. If you find yourself in a place where you don’t have any transition at all then you’re not looking to improve the program,” said Allen. The easiest time to make changes will be over winter break. Allen offered to keep BLC informed but they asked that he deal directly with the workers involved with the petition. “It just really comes down to trying to fix what might be wrong,” said Jade Lara ’17.

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