On the same day that actor Danny Glover was arrested at a protest outside of the U.S. headquarters of Sodexo, a similar, albeit smaller protest was taking place on Tech’s campus.
The protest began at Tech around 11 a.m. on Skiles Walkway and consisted of 20-30 current students, former Sodexo employees and protesters unaffiliated with Tech who were there to express their Sodexo employee concerns.
Sodexo is a French multinational corporation that specializes in providing food services and facilities management worldwide. The company is in charge of operating various food services at a number of Atlanta-area colleges, including Tech, Emory and Morehouse.
The protest hosted at Tech was the second Atlanta rally in as many days, partially organized by representatives from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The first protest was held at Emory University on Tuesday, April 13. The two events were part of SEIU’s “Clean Up Sodexo” national campaign.
“Basically, we’re supporting the dining hall workers in their unionization campaign. I think workers should have a living wage and have rights on the job, and that’s why we’re fighting for their right to unionize,” said Keefer Dunn, second year ARCH.
One of the protestors, Phyllis Jackson, is a former Sodexo employee. She worked as a supervisor at the Pizza Hut located in the Student Center. She was suspended and subsequently fired from Pizza Hut in Dec. The officially stated reason on her termination papers state that she was fired for leaving an extra pizza in the chute, but she believes a recent union arrival back in Oct. 2009 was the reason for her termination.
“I have been in that Pizza Hut for three years supervising. Just because the union came in here and they saw us talking and signing paper[s] to the union, some of [Sodexo’s] employees, that’s when they started firing. They fired me first,” Jackson said.
In response to the allegations made by the protestors, Monica Zimmer, Sodexo director or public relations said “The activity against Sodexo at Georgia Tech on Friday was part of an ongoing SEIU smear campaign that spreads misinformation about the company’s labor practices, misrepresents its record on a variety of issues, and attempts to force the company into dealing with the SEIU to the exclusion of UNITE HERE and other unions… SEIU’s allegations that Sodexo interferes with workers’ rights to unionize are false. Sodexo will stand by the results of any valid secret ballot election that is monitored by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and is free of objectionable conduct.”
As to the specific allegations of Jackson’s wrongful termination, Zimmer said “The union alleged that Phyllis Jackson was terminated because of her union activities. After a thorough investigation and complete cooperation from Sodexo, the NLRB made a determination which resulted in the union withdrawing its charge.”
Another Sodexo protester, Martin Gantt, fourth year BCHEM, summed up what motivated him and other students to support Friday’s protest.
“What we’re doing here today is coming out in support of workers and workers are supporting students. Our organization is workers-student alliance. What we’re doing is basically saying is that workers and students need to unite sort of joint struggles, where they’re kind of struggling for union representation, they’re struggling for fair wages, they’re struggling for sanitary recognitions, healthcare,” Gantt said. “We’re resisting fee hikes, resisting tuition hikes. So we’re kind of trying to tell people that, ‘Hey, workers and students are in this together and we got to fight together, so that’s what we’re doing today.’”
After protesting on Skiles the group entered the Student Center, marching into GT Dining offices.