Unionizing UC Davis Workers: Community-Labor Support Key

After a sustained campaign in which police arrested two dozen non-violent protesters in downtown Davis, California, Sodexho food-service workers at UC Davis have won recognition as university employees.  The recent decision means that 200 career workers and 450 student workers will gain higher wages and better benefits as labor union members on the UC payroll. 

“I’m really happy,” said Kevin Cole, a cook at the Tercero dining hall.  “We are very excited,” said Lidia Uribe, a cook at the Segundo dining hall.

“We arrived at this new direction only after an engaged, thoughtful and collaborative process,” said UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef on April 17. 

In February of 2007, the Associated Students of the UCD Senate passed a resolution in favor of making the Sodexho work force direct UC employees, earning higher wages and better benefits.  Later, Students Organizing for Change joined university faculty and Sodexho workers in a May Day sit-down rally, for which the Yolo County DA is still prosecuting some protesters.  This January the UC Davis Progressive Faculty Group released a report on the harmful impacts of low wages and high workloads on the school’s contracted-out food-service workers.

UC Davis was the last campus in the UC system to employ private food-service workers.  Sodexho, a multi-billion dollar French firm, will continue to manage food-service operations until its contract ends in 2010 with UC Davis.

“The UC Davis administration finally acknowledged that excluding workers from the community is unsustainable and contradicts the core mission of the university’s principles of community,” said Max Alper, lead organizer with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3299.  AFSCME, which is in the AFL-CIO, will represent the Sodexho work force in the future. 

However, Alper has a bone to pick with the decision-making process. “The UC Davis administration met behind closed doors with Sodexho and never included the workers or AFSCME Local 3299 in these negotiations,” he said.

“The union’s request to convert the employees to University of California employees was certainly a factor considered in our review,” said Mitchel Benson, a UC Davis spokesman.

The Sodexho workers are facing a conversion time of 9-12 months to gain UC employment.

“I am not happy about why we have to wait so long,” said Cole.  “We need a voice and protection today,” Uribe added.

According to Alper, UC Santa Cruz management made a spring announcement four years ago to convert food-service workers there to university employment.  By that fall they were on the UC payroll.  Alper backs a similar time frame for the current Sodexho-UC Davis contract.

As the clock ticks, living costs are rising.

“As the cost of health care has skyrocketed, affordable benefits are essential for workers to maintain a healthy standard of living,” the UC Davis Progressive Faculty Group reported in “From the Shadows: How University of California Davis Contracting-Out Fosters Worker Poverty.”

The high price of health care is often overlooked in relation to diners’ expectation that the workers preparing and serving them food are healthy.

There will be an annual cost of $2 million to convert the Sodexho employees to direct university employment.  That amounts to 17 cents a day for each UC Davis student.

In an April 14 missive to UC Davis Chancellor Vanderhoef, Davis Mayor Sue Greenwald expressed her “support of Sodexho workers’ requests.”  She had been meeting with them for the past two years.

Negotiations to amend the current Sodexho-UC Davis contract could begin by late April, Alper said.  Sodexho food-service workers will be involved in bargaining the terms and conditions.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento.  Contact: <ssandronsky@yahoo.com>.

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