U. Washington Kicks Out Sodexo! D.R. Workers’ Struggle Gains Momentum as U.S. Workers Win Unions

Read more: Seattle Times (12/14) – UW Daily (12/14) – UW USAS (12/14) – Associated Students of UW (12/14)

Today, the University of Washington ended its 25-year relationship with Sodexo following a massive campaign by UW USAS and the UW Kick Out Sodexo Coalition. The decision is a major boost to a campaign by students across the US, UK and Canada in solidarity with Sodexo workers in the Dominican Republic facing a fierce crackdown from the company as they struggle against sweatshop conditions.

A key victory for the international campaign to end Sodexo’s labor abuse in the Dominican Republic

UW is the fifth university this year to drop Sodexo amidst student protest over labor abuse, following Western Washington University, Northeastern University, Regis University and Pomona College. The campus food service giant has lost its very last contract with a public university in the entire state of Washington.

Earlier this year, UW students traveled to Sodexo’s work site in Pueblo Viejo, Dominican Republic, and were shocked by workers’ stories of abuse. The coalition hosted a powerful on-campus event with Karina Mieses, a Pueblo Viejo worker who Sodexo fired after she began speaking up against illegal wage theft, sub-poverty wages and harassment from management. She and her co-workers — over 300 Sodexo employees at Barrick Gold’s massive Pueblo Viejo gold mine — formed a union to improve working conditions, called SitraSodexoDO. But Sodexo responded by firing Karina along with at least three other union leaders, a flagrant violation of workers’ basic freedom of association.

Finally the coalition organized not one, not two, but three sit-ins to urge their university to kick out Sodexo unless the situation in Pueblo Viejo was resolved. UW arrested a total of 50 students to try to stop the movement. Sodexo even flew out top exec Thomas Mackall to dissuade UW administrators from heeding students’ demands.

But after Sodexo refused to re-hire any of the D.R. workers fired for speaking out against the abuse, and refused legally-mandated negotiations to improve working conditions, the UW finally said enough is enough and dropped Sodexo.  As always, students and workers united can never be defeated!

Sodexo will be replaced by Aramark, another corporate outsourcing giant. While UW USAS celebrates the hard line their university took against Sodexo’s labor abuse, they are already planning efforts to hold Aramark accountable to the same standard. After a campaign like UW USAS ran this year, Aramark knows it better be on its best behavior.

A wake-up call to the corporate giants of campus food service

The decision at UW is a wake up call to the “Big 3” giants of outsourced campus services: Sodexo, Aramark and Compass. All three multinational corporations make massive profits from both cutting corners on food quality and exploiting workers. The companies sub-poverty wages and fierce union-busting don’t just stay far-away overseas — To the contrary, these sorts of sweatshop conditions are rampant on our own campuses.

But campus workers and students are fighting back! Just this year, workers on our campuses have gained a union and voice at the workplace for the very first time: Sodexo workers at Morehouse College, Loyola University Maryland, Stevenson University in Baltimore, Ursinus College, Whittier College, Loyola Marymount University, St. Peter’s College and Ohio Dominican University. Aramark workers at Georgetown University and Carleton University in Ottawa. And Chartwells (Compass) workers at Dominican University in Chicago.

At a time when companies everywhere tout the economic downturn as an excuse to strip away workers’ rights and protections, students and workers have proven that when we stand together, not even a multinational corporation can stop us.

We won’t stop till D.R. Sodexo workers win justice!

Our demands of Sodexo are very simple:

  1. Re-hire every Pueblo Viejo worker fired in retaliation for speaking out against sweatshop conditions. This includes Maria Magdalena Ortega Jimenez, Carin Yadel Mieses, Maraquia Penalo Rodriguez and Heriberto Sosa Morillo.
  2. Improve working conditions in Pueblo Viejo by completing the legally-mandated collective bargaining process with workers’ union, SitraSodexoDO.
If Sodexo had any doubt that we are serious, we hope the UW decision today makes crystal clear that we will not tolerate labor rights abuse by any company doing business with our schools. The UW victory has inspired and energized all of us, and we are ready to stand with D.R. Sodexo workers in their courageous fight for justice!

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