Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Sodexo Wins Sweetheart Contract with Northwestern University Food Service Workers

The French cafeteria and food concession giant, Sodexo, infamous for abusing workers here and abroad, has just reached a contractual agreement with food service workers at Northwestern University's dining halls and Norris University Center food court. The new contract includes reduced and free health care and a minimum $10 wage, according to the Daily North Western.

The university said it was pleased with the contract, which should be no surprise, considering that a minimum wage of $10 per hour is a poverty wage, not much higher than the national minimum wage of $7.25, and about as low as any employer could hope to legally achieve. Though Northwestern is not a party to the agreement, which is between Sodexo and their employees, the university contracts their food services to Sodexo and benefits from the low wages since lower wages allow Sodexo to offer cheaper services to the university.

According to the new contract, wages will be incrementally increased over four years, eventually reaching a “living wage” of $10 per hour for all workers currently making less than this. The health benefits are expected to significantly reduce the costs of health care for employees, which increase their take home pay.

The biggest gains will be for the lowest paid employees. This has angered some of the higher paid employees, who feel the new contract doesn’t do much for them. The final vote was 118-18 in favor of the new contract, with several workers abstaining and several others not being given long enough breaks to vote.

Ultimately, if $10 per hour is an improvement for workers, the new contract could be seen as a step forward. However, contrary to the glowing statements from union officials, this can hardly be seen as a “significant victory,” as $10 per hour is nowhere near sufficient for a family of four or even a single individual to live comfortably and securely in this society. It is not even close to the union’s initial demand of $13.23, which the Living Wage Committee calculated as the living wage for Sodexo workers at Northwestern. If anything, $10 per hour should be seen as a significant concession to the bosses.

Considering that Sodexo CEOs are earning 7 figure salaries and the company grosses billions of dollars each year, $10 per hour seems like a pretty low salary. On the other hand, how else could the company earn so much without squeezing its employees as tightly as possible?

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