Last year we counted down the 10 Biggest Stories in Davis.
This year we countdown the 10 biggest stories that we followed on the People’s Vanguard of Davis.
We continue with the 4th biggest story: Sodexho Foodworkers Organize to Become UC Employees.
On May 1, 2007 protesters seeking university pay and benefits for food service workers held the first of a number of well-organized events. The main issues are ability over over 550 food service workers, custodians, and cooks to get university jobs which would entitle them to higher pay. An outsourced worker gets around $10.35 an hour versus a starting minimum over over $12 hour and a max of up to $15.50 for a university employee. However, even more important are health care benefits. One of the workers told me she was paying over $100 for her health care package where a UC Davis employed worker would only pay about 5% of that.
Police placed the number of protesters at 150, but the number appeared to be at least 400, and possibly more.
They held a rally at the MU for about half an hour. Then marched around the quad, down to Freeborn and held a brief rally there before heading down Howard to Russell and then down Russell to the corner of Russell and Anderson.
“The event was well organized. The police did a good job of blocking traffic, diverting it away from the protest and also did not engage with the protesters.
It was only when the larger group left the street to stand on the sidewalks, then a group of perhaps 24 to 30 people sat down in the middle of the intersection.”
“At this point, Lt. Dorothy Pearson gave the order to disperse. When they did not disperse, officers read the protesters their rights and arrested them, one-by-one leading them into a bus.
When this was done, the protesters peacefully dispersed and there appeared to be no incidents. It was well handled by both the police and the organizers to make a point. Although you can see from one of the photos above, the police were ready with riot gear (or two of them were) if the crowd got out of hand.”
Three weeks later, there was another large protest this one going directly to Mrak Hallthe main issues are ability over over 550 food service workers, custodians, and cooks to get university jobs which would entitle them to higher pay. An outsourced worker gets around $10.35 an hour versus a starting minimum over over $12 hour and a max of up to $15.50 for a university employee. However, even more important are health care benefits. One of the workers told me she was paying over $100 for her health care package where a UC Davis employed worker would only pay about 5% of that..
“A small contingent of 15 protesters had gotten inside the building prior to the protest and spoke to the crowd from second story windows. According to later reports, 15 of these people were arrested when they refused to leave the building.
The building was eventually locked down out of concern for public safety and the safety of the employees working in the building, although the crowd was largely well organized and did not seem to present a tremendous danger. The doors locked and protesters outside demanding action.”
The lockdown of the building appeared to be an overreaction by the police and the university administration. The small but vocal crowd was of no threat to the safety of anyone.
We spoke with labor organizer Bill Camp who is the director of the Sacramento Central Labor Council. He described in detail the organizing efforts, some of the complaints about treatment by the police, and some other interesting details of protesting and being arrested at UC Davis and in Yolo County.
“Last Wednesday Bill Camp, 63, was one of several protesters who entered Mrak Hall, sat down on the first floor and was arrested for failure to disperse. And in fact, the protesters including Camp, were charged with not only failure to disperse but also trespassing.
The protesters went into the building in advance to see how to enter the building. They tried to see Chancellor Vanderhoef, but access to his office was blocked, and he was not there. Camp, wearing a tie and slacks, appeared as though he was some “old professor,” to use his words. The protesters went up to the second floor because they couldn’t get up to the fifth floor where the chancellor’s office is located. So, they went to the fourth floor and were going to walk up to the fifth floor.”
The university began to receive pressure from a number of elected officials most notably however, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk.
The response by the university was disappointing. First they attempted to pit the Sodexho workers against the students, by suggesting to the students that they would raise student rates if the workers were granted university status and paid commensurate with what a university employee would get rather than an outsourced contract laborer.
“In an article in Dateline UC Davis, the university said that it wanted to hear from the students “who pay the bills” regarding the demands of food workers efforts to become university employees.
On the one hand, according to the article,
“Sodexho already announced that it has established an independent third-party grievance system, introduced the UC Davis Principles of Community to employees and boosted wages consistent with UC’s recent pay increases for its lowest-paid workers.”
In a Sodexho letter dated May 18 and posted online with [Interim Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Janet] Gong’s, the company’s senior vice president, Bill Lacey, pointed out that the company in 2003 voluntarily elected to follow the Sacramento Living Wage policy, and that the company believes “our compensation is competitive within our industry.”
On the other hand,
“The university estimates the cost of providing improved wages and more affordable benefits to Sodexho workers at $2.1 million annually.”
Janet Gong, the interim head of Student Affairs suggests the following:
“This is a significant recurring cost that cannot readily be absorbed within the existing university budget.”
She added that the burden of paying the extra cost would likely fall on students who rely on Sodexho service in the dining halls and elsewhere on campus. “Being mindful of the additional costs our students would face and consistent with the chancellor’s commitment to address these issues, we are exploring a variety of strategies to improve wages and benefits.””
The students and workers decided to use Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef’s annual event as a means to protest, particularly since food service workers were being used to serve the guests their meal.
A large number of prominent public officials entered the Chancellor’s university residence and ignored the protesters outside.
“More interesting was perhaps the reaction of leaders in this community–some of whom have expressed open support for the food service workers. For instance, Assemblywoman Lois Wolk had sent a letter to the chancellor in March urging him to negotiate with the students in good faith. She was also supposed to be meeting with the Chancellor in hopes of pressuring him to resolve the meeting. Given that, it was surprising to see the Assemblywoman walk right past the protesters, along with her husband Bruce Wolk, and say nary a word.
Davis City Councilmember Don Saylor exchanged pleasantries with me, however, he did not attempt to talk to the students despite his earlier letter of support. Nor did Councilmember Ruth Asmundson. Nor did former Mayor and current Judge Dave Rosenberg. Nor did Congressman Mike Thompson’s representative Eli Faircloth.”
All but one public official, that would be County Supervisor Mariko Yamada:
“There was but one exception to that list–County Supervisor Mariko Yamada. Ms. Yamada walked up to the protesters, offered words of support and hugs, and made the determination that she should not go in, in light of the protest. The students talked her into going inside, however, it was clear from the student’s reaction that her support was very meaningful to them. Nor was the fact that several other leaders in the community had walked right past them without a word lost upon them.”
Chancellor Dennis Shimek, whose hardball tactics have at times angered the organizers and workers intentionally showed his disdain for the group.
“Vice Chancellor Dennis Shimek at one point intentionally and deliberately walked right through the marching picketers–and for really no apparent reason as he walked through some grass in some open space and then returned to the Chancellor’s residence. I caught up to him at the park, and told him that my mother had taught me never to walk through a picket line.
He asked me, “why is that?”
I responded, “it is the ultimate sign of disrespect.”
He said, “they were in the path, I had the right to walk there, so I did.”
He could have easily walked around them. He was attempting to intimidate them and bully them, just as he had up in his office during negotiations. This is a university employee’s disdain for students who were exercising their lawful right to assembly.
Finally, what perhaps disturbed me the most was the treatment of the protesters by the UC Davis police. There were at least six police officers there for a pretty small protest. But that’s understandable given the size of previous protests. What concerned me was that the police were taking pictures of the protesters.”
Meanwhile the university has continued with their attempts to break the will of the protesters. In August, announcing that a deal had been made with the workers. In fact, it was a deal deal that was cut with the company itself.
“According to UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef in the release:
“We have listened to a wide range of sometimes-conflicting concerns, and I believe we are responding in a principled way to balance the cost of improved benefits and wages for our food service workers with the need to maintain access and affordability for our students… And, very important to me because I believe a contract is one’s word, we are doing so without breaking our contract with Sodexho. Sodexho is being responsive to our requests and is committed to strengthening its overall compensation competitiveness and workplace environment.”
The release further claims:
“According to the agreement, Sodexho will augment its existing medical benefits plan by increasing the employer contribution level, effective January 1. The specific employer contribution will be determined by Sodexho prior to its employee health plan open-enrollment period in October.
The changes to the Sodexho contract are expected to add additional annual costs of approximately $2 million — an estimated $1.5 million per year in additional costs to Student Housing and $500,000 per year to the Student Union operating services.”
However, the news was met with caution and suspicion by the workers themselves.
“Dan Cole is the lead cook at Segundo and in charge of the station at the Segundo Dining Commons. He has been an employee there for five years. He makes a marginal income and feels he pays a lot for his health care benefits even though they are not great benefits.
According to him, this agreement is a good start.
“Everyone’s initial reaction was kind of to get excited, but they doing it for the wrong reasons, why now? They are doing this to get around the union. I don’t see why if they can get us the two-thirds, why can’t they go the whole way.”
That is a point that he kept emphasizing, the University was willing to go two-thirds of the way there in terms of wages and benefits, but that’s not the end of the story. There is no reason that they cannot go all the way and give them university employee status.
He views the University’s tactic however as a “tactic to get around the union issue. They want to keep us as minimally happy as possible to keep things the way they are.”
He described many of the workers now as being more resolved.
“Absolutely, everyone’s reaction is quite excited.”
If anything this has made them in even stronger support for the union and their goals of becoming university employees.
“Without the union, this would not happen at all. A lot of people recognize what the union brings us—whether you agree or disagree with the union here, it is clear that this would not have happened if the union weren’t here.””
As the year comes to a close, the student protesters from the May 1 event have charges pending before them and their case will work through the court system. Meanwhile, the organizers are planning more actions in an attempt to gain university status and a livable wage with good and affordable benefits for these workers.
For all this, the Sodexho Food Service organizing is the fourth biggest Vanguard story for 2007.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting