Response to Peterson’s defense of Sodexo managers

In last week’s Broadside, Rose Peterson asked, “Since when has anyone believed something so readily?” She was referring to students supporting Mason Dining and Sodexo workers’ claims of poor working conditions and inadequate pay. She then used her experience as a Sodexo employee to argue that every single accusation against its corporate management is false.

My apologies, Ms. Peterson, but I’m not ready to believe you.

Now, I’m not disputing your experiences. I’m sure you never had a problem with your pay and never saw a true safety concern. However, I don’t believe your conclusions about Sodexo’s hundreds of workers across 27 dining locations at George Mason University simply because you “actually worked at both the Johnson Center … [and] Southside.” Anecdotal evidence proves nothing.

However, Ms. Peterson’s column is reflective of the entire Sodexo debate. Every party, from Sodexo to student groups to organized labor and beyond, has decided that they are 100 percent correct, and refuses to give even the slightest bit of credence to their opposition.

Take, for example, the controversy over work-related injuries. Workers claim that they are caused by unsafe working conditions; Sodexo contends that the workers did not follow proper safety protocols. Is either allegation correct? I don’t know. I’ve never witnessed a worker being injured at Mason. But I do know that, in any situation, either one of them (or a combination of both) could be the cause of a workplace injury. Maybe 60 percent of the injuries are the fault of workers, or maybe 70 percent are the fault of the management.

These numbers are arbitrary of course, but the point remains: neither side has provided convincing evidence to prove who was at fault in these situations. As such, we ought not believe either story when we cannot possibly know with certainty who is correct.

And yet, each party acts like they own the truth. The Student Senate Dining Committee’s press release this past spring vehemently supported Sodexo without interviewing a single worker. (Full disclosure: I resigned from the Student Senate for this reason).

On the other side, the newly formed GMU Students for Workers’ Rights delivered a letter to President Alan Merten demanding the university remove Sodexo from all university operations—without discussing their issues with the corporation’s management. Worse, both the SEIU and Sodexo have stopped appealing to facts entirely, and instead are seeking to discredit each other with claims of coercion and worker intimidation.

None of this helps resolve the dispute. In fact, these disruptive third parties have helped to entrench workers and management in their ideological positions, virtually closing off all forms of communication between the parties.

We need a new paradigm for resolving this conflict. I propose that the university investigate a number of workers’ claims, and act as a mediator between workers and Sodexo. After all, Mason is at the forefront of the burgeoning field of conflict analysis and resolution; surely one of our professors could use a case study in workplace conflict. Plus, an impartial third party could bring both sides to the table and may even find a consensus.

Regardless of what happens within Sodexo, I hope we as students keep our minds open. It’s easy to demonize “union thugs” or “profit-obsessed corporatism” (I’ve heard both statements from students in the last week) without knowing the truth. But to blindly accept either side’s claims without substantive evidence is foolish and irrational.

Ultimately, Peterson hit the nail on the head—we shouldn’t readily believe everything we hear. Instead, we should withhold judgment until the facts are apparent. Only then can we fight for justice.

Dominic Pody
Government and International Politics