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Latest News - May 2010

May 6, 2010
Cafeteria Workers Await Labor Board Findings
Source: Atlanticville
Author: Kenny Walter

School cafeteria workers rallied recently for better job benefits, but a representative of the company they work for said last week the rally was a union organizers’ tactic.

A spokeswoman for Sodexo said last week that the investigation was a tactic by SEIU (Service Employees International Union).

“An unfair labor practice [complaint] has been filed, and as always we will fully cooperate with the National Labor Relations Board’s investigation,” said Monica Zimmer, spokeswoman for Sodexo Inc., a provider of food and facilities management services.

“It is a typical SEIU tactic to file an unfair labor practice claim against the target of its union organizing campaign, which happens to be Sodexo. This is a typical thing they do to gain attention,” Zimmer said.

Citing poor wages, escalating health care costs and lack of respect, cafeteria workers gathered April 15 at Slocum Park on Broadway.

With the help of Local 32BJ of the SEIU, the workers have filed a complaint with the NLRB.
Matt Painter, assistant communications director of Local 32BJ of the SEIU, described some of the conditions he said workers deal with.

“What they are looking for is wages that they are able to support their family on, affordable health insurance, and the respect that they deserve,” Painter said. “The workers can make as little as $8 an hour, which is hard to support a family on.

“The cost of health insurance can be as much as $240 a month.”

Painter went on to say that the workers, who provide food service in the school district cafeterias, have been unfairly questioned by their employer.

“By law, employers aren’t allowed to interrogate workers about their support of a union and what they are doing to organize for better jobs,” he said.

Painter explained that the investigation might not be resolved for a few months.

“The board investigates, and it might go to an administrative law judge,” he said. “Unfortunately, it might take a few months for that to happen.”

According to Zimmer, SEIU has filed 15 complaints against Sodexo, but there have not been any findings resulting from any of them.

“As of yet, there have been no findings against Sodexo,” she said. “Just because they file a claim doesn’t mean we’ve been found guilty of anything.”

She also said that Sodexo isn’t the only company targeted.

“The SEIU has filed over 2,000 such claims in the past two years,” she said.

Some 57 Sodexo employees work in Long Branch schools, and representatives from Irvington, South Orange and New Orleans were at the rally.

“Sodexo is a multinational company, but somebody has to stand up against them because otherwise they are going to pay everyone the minimum wage,” rally organizer Margarita Alonzo said.

Alonzo said she was incensed by Sodexo placing an ad in a North Jersey newspaper defending their company.

“They spent that money on an ad; they should be giving that money to you,” she said.

She also said that in order to change the labor practices, the workers must act.

“We can’t do this without support,” she said. “We can’t do this by standing by ourselves. We have to reach out to people and get as much support as possible.”

Amid chants of “Yes we can,” SEIU New Jersey Area Director Kevin Brown criticized Sodexo’s labor practices.

“This is the struggle for justice for people who work for the 22nd largest company in the world,” he said. “Sodexo has 120,000 employees in the United States of America, and maybe 5,000 of them are in a union.

“What do people get when they work for this huge multinational company?” he asked. “Do you get a fair wage? Do you get health care for your family?”

Two Long Branch workers spoke about their work conditions.

“I love the kids, I love my job, but we want better conditions,” Griselda Monroy said.

“I need more money, more benefits, more respect,” Maribel Hernandez, who spoke through a translator, said. “We are here for a lot of different reasons, but the main reason is to get better benefits and better wages.

“More respect for my co-workers and I,” she added. “We just need better treatment.”

The cafeteria workers had some political backing as well, with letters written in their support from Freeholders Amy Mallet and John D’Amico, and appearances at the rally by Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider and council candidate Raul Pacheco.

“You deserve to be treated fairly, you deserve to be treated reasonably, and you deserve to be treated with basic human rights,” Schneider said. “That means a wage, health insurance you can afford, and it means you can’t be fired for trying to organize.”

“Don’t be afraid and come out,” Pacheco said. “You need health care, so don’t be afraid and leave the fear at home.”





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