By Emily Sharrer, Editor-in-Chief

Sodexo workers at George Mason University are in the process of gathering testimonies and signing a petition to demand more affordable healthcare options, better working standards and the right to form a union — an entitlement, which a group of employees alleges has led to hostile working conditions and harassment on the job.

“The reason why we are doing this is because we know that a lot of things that are being done by the company is against the rights of the workers,” said Andres Ujueta, who works in Southside. “There are a lot of things that need to be taken care of.”

Since last fall, workers for Sodexo across the nation have been petitioning to combat low wages, discrimination and other grievances against management at their respective working locations, and several weeks ago Mason Sodexo employees decided to join in the fight.

According to Fabricio Herrera, a lead organizer at the Arlington branch of the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, Mason Sodexo workers have been discouraged by employers from joining a union, though the National Labor Relations Act guarantees workers the right to join unions without fear of backlash from employers.

According to charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board, across the U.S., Sodexo has illegally fired, surveilled and interrogated workers for wanting to form a union.

“What Sodexo workers across the country are looking for is a fair process to form a union,” said Matt Painter, a spokesperson for the SEIU. “They’re looking to form a union without harassment and without intimidation and a lot of times workers do have to protest and do petitions.”

In January, the university renewed their contract with Sodexo, signing on with the company for five more years.

Though workers at Mason only started signing petitions several weeks ago, at a gathering on Thursday, eight Mason Sodexo workers claimed they have been dealing with unfair working conditions for years.

“They try to intimidate us, telling us if we go and work for any union we could get fired or we will have to pay a huge amount of money to the union when we know that is not true,” said Ujueta.

The main complaints of Mason Sodexo workers include cutting hours, harassment, discrimination and expensive health insurance options, which workers say eat up a significant amount of their weekly paycheck.

“A lot of people make $8.50 an hour, if they pay out for health insurance they end up making a couple of dollars an hour,” said Herrera.
Denise Ammaccapane, Sodexo’s resident district manager at Mason, however, says the claims of the workers are unfounded.

According to Ammaccapane, the average hourly rate of Mason’s 400 plus Sodexo workers is $10.73 an hour.
“As far as wages, we pay competitively,” said Ammaccapane. “We don’t usually start anybody out above $8.50 an hour and we pay as high as $17-18 an hour. We definitely don’t pay minimum wage.”

Ammaccapane, who has been with Sodexo for 18 years, says benefits and services available to Sodexo employees is up to par.

“I personally think the benefit package offered to us is top of the line,” said Ammaccapane. “Nobody’s forced to do anything [and] there are different options.”
According to Ujueta, however, his paycheck does not match his workload.

“They are not focusing on the people that work in the stations, they are more worried about hiring supervisors to be in control of the people that work in the line; harassing them and pushing them and making us actually do the job of three people,” said Ujueta.

According to Ammaccapane, the company has an adequate amount of employees.

“I would say at this point we are fully staffed,” said Ammaccapane. “Are there days when several employees call out sick and people have to cover the slack? Yes. They are asked to do adequately what they need to do for their jobs.”

While no protests are planned, Herrera says the group’s next action will depend on how the petition is received by Mason’s Sodexo management.
“Everyday we are getting more and more workers [to sign the petition],” said Herrera.

Ammaccapane stands by her open door policy as well as the right of Mason’s Sodexo workers to unionize.

“Anything is open to anybody,” Ammaccapane said of workers being able to join a union. “Nobody would threaten anybody.

“We were just rated number one company to work for as far as diversity out of 450 companies. That doesn’t happen because we have bad practices. We do things by the book. I believe Sodexo is a great company and I have no issues.”