University to employ food-service workers

After
more than a year of student and worker demonstrations, the university
announced Thursday that non-management Sodexho workers will become
eligible for University of California employment. The move will cost
the university approximately $2 million.

Sodexho is a national company which provides dining services across the UC Davis campus.

After worker and student protests in favor of university employment
last year, the university began studying its food-service options in
May 2007.

“There were things that gave me pause,” said Chancellor Larry
Vanderhoef, adding that he was especially concerned about worker health
insurance and retirement benefits. While the wages and benefits were
competitive for the region, they were still low, he said.

After more than a year of student and worker demonstrations, the university announced Thursday that non-management Sodexho workers will become eligible for University of California employment. The move will cost the university approximately $2 million.

Sodexho is a national company which provides dining services across the UC Davis campus.

After worker and student protests in favor of university employment last year, the university began studying its food-service options in May 2007.

“There were things that gave me pause,” said Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef, adding that he was especially concerned about worker health insurance and retirement benefits. While the wages and benefits were competitive for the region, they were still low, he said.

In a year when UC Davis is facing large budget cuts, the cost of the move is of concern for university officials. Student fees are expected to increase at least 7 percent this year, Vanderhoef said.

The university plans to phase in the increased cost of employing food-service workers directly, said associate vice chancellor for Student Affairs Janet Gong. In addition, some money will be taken out of Student Housing and student union reserves. UC Davis officials plan to “grow the business” by expanding dining options at the Silo Café and Pub and the Activities and Recreation Center, Gong said. Finally, the university hopes Sodexho will participate financially.

While negotiations have yet to take place, Sodexho officials say they want to continue partnership with UC Davis.

“Sodexho will be part of the university transition team that will work through all aspects of the transition of Sodexo employees to university employment,” said Brenan Connolly, director of university dining services, in an e-mail interview.

The school chose to retain Sodexho management at least until 2010, when UC Davis’ contract expires with the company.

“We don’t want to lose the Sodexho advantage,” Vanderhoef said. “They have nationwide purchasing power we can’t dream of having. They have experience we can’t dream of having.”

The move, in which 175 to 200 non-student Sodexho workers and 450 student workers will become UC Davis employees, has garnered approval from the food-service workers’ union.

“We’re very excited,” said Lakesha Harrison, president of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, the union that has been working to gain university employment for Sodexho workers. AFSCME Local 3299 currently represents approximately 3,000 UC Davis employees.

“This is a really great step that the university has taken,” she said. “It’s going to be great for the workers when they see the changes that happen when they become a UC employee, and I hope we can get it done as soon as possible.”

The process will take nine to 12 months, said Gong.

“One of the things that’s a little concerning is the time line,” Harrison said. “We understand things can’t happen today, but we hope to work with university over summer to get that in place over the fall.”

Harrison cited the short transitions that UC Santa Cruz and UC Irvine had from an outside food-service management company to self operation. UCSC and UCI both transitioned over a summer between school years, Harrison said.

While both union and UC Davis officials have said they want as fast a transition as possible, Gong stressed UC Davis’ desire for prudence in the process.

“The advice they [UCSC and UCI] gave us was to anticipate the full array of HR issues,” Gong said. She added that the university and Sodexho differ in a number of ways, including their payroll practices, compensation benefits, retirement practices and hiring processes, all of which will have to be explained to the food-service workers.

“A transition from food-service operator to self operation is very traumatic,” said Nancy Hudson, who was a member of the consulting group that studied different food-service options for the campus. Hudson also teaches a class on food-service management at UC Davis.

As a result of the discrepancies between Sodexho and the university’s personnel practices, not all the workers will benefit from the plan. A person close to retirement from Sodexho could have to wait as long as five years for university retirement contributions to kick in, Gong said.

In addition, the university has a different set of benefits for students. Sodexho currently gives students textbook and tuition funding, which is not standard for the university. In addition, the university only allows its student workers to clock in 19.5 hours per week, as opposed to the 29 hours per week that Sodexho allows.

These changes have caused frustration for some, as not all workers wanted to become UC Davis employees.

“I’m kind of pissed,” said Valerie Howell, a first-year political science and French double major. Howell, who has worked at the Segundo Dining Commons since September, expressed frustration over the transition for workers.

“We all have to reapply for jobs we already have,” Howell said, adding that there is no guarantee workers will be rehired for the same job they currently have. “Some people have no hope of getting their jobs back.”

As part of the university’s hiring practices, potential hires undergo background checks, Gong said.

“We do have some people here with criminal records, and they’re great,” Howell said. “That’s in the past, and they’re being punished for it now.”

Vanderhoef said it was important to ensure that those who wanted to remain Sodexho employees not get disadvantaged by the change.

“Somehow we will try to make it that current student employees don’t lose their benefits – that’s what we’re going to exactly figure out in that nine to 12 month period,” Vanderhoef said.

UC Davis will be negotiating with Sodexho and AFSCME as well as other interested parties over the transition period to try to resolve the benefit discrepancies, Gong said. She added that she is optimistic that Sodexho will cooperate with the university, citing its funding of several university construction projects and the pride Sodexho takes in its partnership with the school.

 

CAITLIN KELLY-SNEED can be reached at campus@californiaaggie.com .

 

Sodexho employee timeline

 

Feb. 22, 2007 – ASUCD Senate passes resolution in support of higher wages, benefits for campus food service workers

Mar. 13, 2007 – Food service workers meet with university officials to discuss direct employment

Mar.
28, 2007 – University denies food service workers’ request to become
directly employed, states intention to honor contract with Sodexho

May
1, 2007 – Twenty-four protestors arrested on intersection of Anderson
Road and Russell Boulevard while demonstrating on behalf of food
service workers

May 3, 2007 – Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef’s quarterly Brown Bag Chat cancelled after being crashed by protestors

May 8, 2007 – Vanderhoef, citing UC Davis Principles of Community, writes letter to The California Aggie condemning protestors’ interruption of Brown Bag Chat

May 23, 2007 – Advocates of food service workers hold protest, march on campus

Aug. 29, 2007 – Sodexho and UC Davis make preliminary agreement to increase food service worker wages, benefits

Oct. 22, 2007 – UC Davis, Sodexho sign memorandum of understanding to finalize agreement

Apr. 17, 2008 – UC Davis agrees to have its food workers become university employees