By Pakiza Nasher and Frank Anderson, Co-Presidents, Kenton Ngo, Vice President

The George Mason University College Democrats are disappointed with the irresponsible statements made by the Student Government’s Dining Committee against our food service workers. It is unfortunate that these members have chosen to make claims about the working conditions of our food service workers without even speaking with them.

We have spoken with the workers. They want nothing more than a decent wage, affordable health insurance and justice in the workplace. They love George Mason University, its faculty and its students. Their complaint is with the upper management of Sodexo Corporation and its unfair working conditions.

These conditions are not imaginary. One employee suffered a severe burn on her arm. She asked her manager if she could go to the hospital, but was told that if she wanted to go, she could walk. Another elderly worker was injured in a fall while unplugging an oven.

Payment for her back brace was taken out of her vacation pay. These conditions are unacceptable, even before considering the low wages.

The Dining Committee states that wages of $8.50 per hour are “competitive” because they are higher than the Virginia minimum wage.

That is not saying much. $8.50 cannot be considered anywhere near a living wage. In Fairfax County, the living wage has been calculated at about $44,000 per year. We spoke to one worker who had been with Sodexo for 10 years, but only received a $1 raise during that period. The real wages that our food service workers take home are actually far lower because of the excessive cost of health insurance that Sodexo offers its employees. The insurance cost is one of the reasons that the workers told us they were protesting.

Although the Dining Committee used the seals of the Student Government and the university on their letterhead, we don’t think they speak for the entire campus. Instead of supporting the workers’ right to unionize, the committee accused them of throwing around “frivolous claims” without asking the workers what they thought of their conditions. We believe that the Sodexo team on campus treats the students in the Dining Committee with respect and is attentive to their claims, but the company behaves very differently with workers.

The decision to walk off the job is not one that workers take lightly, and the large number of workers wouldn’t have done it unless there were real issues with Sodexo’s unfair treatment. Low pay and high health care costs are an unnecessary reality that these workers face.

Despite what the management says, Sodexo workers around the country have been met with intimidation, surveillance, interrogations and even termination when they voiced their desire to improve their lives and their jobs. Workers went on strike to send a message to Sodexo: workers want to raise their families out of poverty, and intimidation and harassment won’t be tolerated.

The College Democrats fully support the Sodexo workers as they fight for their right to form a union and seek better working conditions.

Pakiza Nasher and Frank Anderson, Co-Presidents
Kenton Ngo, Vice President