October 21, 2019

Sodexo employees demand higher wages

One Sodexo employee worked in custodial services for twelve years and still only made $11 an hour.

One Sodexo employee did not want to release her last name out of fear of losing her job. She is only referred to as Shannon.

Once Sodexo employee Shannon leaves her custodial job at Webster, she goes to a second job to support herself. Shannon and other Sodexo employees are fighting for higher wages.

More than 30 custodial services Sodexo employees are pushing for better wages. Custodial service employees make a median wage at Webster of $10.56 per hour according to Nick Desideri, a public relations representative for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Janitors at Webster are members of the SEIU Local One Union.

Shannon started working for Sodexo last July for $9.75 an hour. She said some of her other coworkers worked for Sodexo for 12 years and make $11 an hour.

Sodexo janitor’s contracts expire on March 31, Desideri said. The bargaining date is March 27 for Sodexo to set new wages.

Sodexo custodial service employees are wearing these pins to advocate for higher wages at $15 an hour from Sodexo.

Shannon and other employees started to wear pins that say “stand up for $15.” Shannon said she didn’t agree with raising the wage to as high as $15 but wanted an increase to what she makes now.

“I think this is insane, they’re not going to go for this,” Shannon said. “The minute this would happen, they would strip us of all our benefits. I’m sure of it because they can’t afford to do both.”

Shannon said she had concerns other than her pay.

Employees shouldn’t have to drive to Webster when the school is closed during inclement weather, Shannon said.

“Some of us haven’t been here long enough to have accrued enough vacation or sick time,” Shannon said. “We’ve had to come in when it wasn’t the safest situation in the world.”

The fight for $15 is a national movement. Desideri said janitors in St. Louis City and County joined the movement after New York fast food workers walked off the job in 2012 for a $15 living wage.  

Webster janitors make comparatively less than those at other universities in St. Louis. Janitors at Washington University make $11.50 an hour and those at St. Louis University have an hourly pay of $12, Desideri said.

“While they have combined decades of experience keeping Webster clean and healthy, too many are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table,” Desideri said.  

Sodexo provides food and facility management services to mainly universities, hospitals and prisons according to its website.

Sodexo has two branches at Webster: food services and housekeeping. Octavio Pino works as the general manager of food services at Webster. Pino said he negotiated new wages last year for food services employees. His employees have wages above average as a result. His food services employees make an average of $16 an hour, Pino said.

Pino said he felt the working conditions were fine. He doesn’t have anyone making less than $10 an hour.

“I feel like we take care of our employees,” Pino said. “Their salaries are much better than the average salaries.”

Pino and his employees are members of the union United Here Local 74. He said he felt like he has a good relationship with his employees.

“I have an open door policy. If anybody has a problem, they’re welcome to come talk to me and we’ll try to address that right away,” Pino said. “Everytime we have an issue, I contact the union and tell them exactly what I’m doing so we know what’s going on.”

Janitors plan to have an off-campus protest if Sodexo doesn’t approve a pay increase after their bargaining date, Shannon said.

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