“With what these guys make, they can’t afford to live,” Service Employees International Union representative Mike Murphy said.
Multiple Sodexo janitors who work at Webster confirmed a pay increase is in the works with the company after they rallied for higher wages outside the Sverdrup Complex on Oct. 1.
Sodexo custodial services employees began publicly fighting for higher wages earlier this year as part of the national “Fight for $15” campaign.
Sodexo provides food and facility management services to mainly hospitals and universities. The company has two branches at Webster: food services and housekeeping. Food services employees have different pay rates than housekeeping and did not participate in the protest.
Nick Desideri, a public relations representative for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), told The Journal in March that Webster’s janitors made a median wage of $10.56 per hour. Sodexo did not provide The Journal with a comment.
Missouri’s minimum wage is currently $8.60 per hour, but will rise incrementally to $12 an hour by 2023. Starting wage for custodial service employees currently sits at $9 an hour, according to Desideri.
Edward Day of SEIU read a statement written anonymously from a Webster janitor at the protest.
“At the end of my shift, I go home and struggle with how I am going to pay my rent, groceries and bills,” the statement declared. “My coworkers and I need to have a wage we can live off of.”
Sodexo proposed to SEIU a new starting wage of $9.75 per hour. SEIU union representative Mike Murphy said the increase is not large enough.
“With what these guys make, they can’t afford to live,” Murphy said.
Janitor Phillip Poke said he has worked for Sodexo for 15 years. His wage started at $8.50 an hour and he currently makes $9.50 per hour.
Poke said he has been to his payroll office multiple times and has found no success with reasoning with Sodexo. Poke said he felt janitors were “going around in circles,” prompting the rally.
Murphy said SEIU tried reaching out to Webster University through a petition sent to Facilities Operations Manager Gil Morales. The petition asked the university to urge Sodexo to offer a $15 wage, according to Murphy.
Head of Public Relations Patrick Giblin confirmed the university received a letter from Sodexo employees that informed Webster of their desire to earn more. Giblin wrote in an email that the letter was not presented as a petition and did not request the university to take any sort of action on the issue.
Desideri provided The Journal a portion of the employee’s statement:
“We, the undersigned, work hard to keep Webster University safe and clean every day. Our work is valuable and helps keep students and faculty healthy. But we’re struggling to support our families on wages as low as $9 an hour. Please urge Sodexo to do the right thing for our families and communities and offer us the $15 wage we need to put food on the table.”
Desideri told The Journal on Oct. 1 the union did not receive a response from Webster.
The university’s contract with Sodexo expires in 24 months, according to Giblin. Sodexo janitors renegotiated their wages with the company on Oct. 7.
Murphy said at the protests he hopes Sodexo employees will get a wage in the future that will let them live with less of a struggle.