By Carrington York, Staff Reporter
More than 20 Sodexo employees and Howard University students recently held a “walk-in” to protest the dining workers’ wages. The protest was a response to an ongoing contract dispute between Sodexo and dining employees who work at Howard dormitories and the Blackburn University Center.
Under Sodexo, Howard dining employees’ contracts expired in May 2019. Since then, dining staff and their union representative have attempted to negotiate a resolution. Employees, along with student supporters, walked into Blackburn on Friday, Jan. 31, to present their demands and a Change.org petition with 3,158 names to the office of Aisha Brown, Sodexo general manager.
The employees say that they are paid $14.50 an hour when school is in session and are demanding an increase.
“We’re asking for more affordable health-care plans and the cost-of-living wage,” said Anthony Randolph, union representative for UNITE Here Local 23. “Other universities in D.C. get paid $16-$21 for the same work.”
Sodexo released the following statement in response to the walk-in:
“Sodexo is actively negotiating a renewal contract agreement with the union that represents our food service employees. We will be meeting with the union and its bargaining committee, and we look forward to reaching an agreement that is fair to both parties.”
It is unclear when employees can expect a resolution.
Blackburn cook Mae Butler said that the delay in resolving the pay dispute is hurting employees and that they each do the work of more than one person.
“Some people lose their homes during breaks, because they prolonged it,” Butler said. “They don’t want to come to the bargaining table.”
“You’re not paying me for what I’m worth, but you’re using me as I’m working two to three man jobs,” she added.
Sodexo provides food services to various universities, senior living centers and residential venues. It is the main food retailer for dining services at Howard, serving hundreds of students a day.
Howard culture has fostered a sense of community and respect between students and staff. Students have shown their appreciation for cafeteria employees with videos of their talents and testimonies to their kindness on social media platforms such as “Howard Twitter.”
That supportive community, employees felt, was not honored during the demonstration. “We wanted to show them that y’all stand with us,” said Bethune Annex cashier Hollis Coates. She insisted that the walk-in was a statement of unity more than a symbol of disruption. Although Brown allowed a few employees into her office, she shut the door on some walk-in participants.
“When I go to work, I go to the babies I love,” Coates said after the demonstration. “We work hard, and we love our students. That’s why we keep coming to work. We just want what we deserve.”