by Megan J. Mahoney

Some Sodexho workers and their union have inflamed an already tense situation by protesting an annual reduction of work hours as other employees maintain that their treatment is fair and good.

While already fighting the reduction of hours that went into effect Jan. 16 and preparing to negotiate a new contract, the workers themselves are divided while within the tense triangle of Fairfield University, Sodexho and the worker’s union, Local 217.

“We have heard Sodexho is going after benefits at other shops,” said Joe Milorv, a Sodexho employee and vice president for Local 217 union steward. “That is something that worries us workers.”

In an effort to spread support for the fight against the hour cuts, some employees have recently been wearing white stickers on their shirts with black lettering which read, “We deserve the right to earn a living.”

A petition was also circulated which read, “As members of the Fairfield University community, we deserve the right to earn a living, free health insurance and to care for our families.”

On Thursday, Jan. 20, Milorv, union organizer Monica Bunton, and 35 to 40 employees marched up Bellarmine Hill to present university President Rev. Jeffrey von Arx with a three-page petition.

“We were told by the secretary that this wasn’t the way to do it, we couldn’t see von Arx, and to come back with only one or two people,” said Milorv. “So, we went back the next Tuesday with a few people but we were told we still weren’t doing it right.”

“I believe von Arx was there, but the secretary said he was indisposed,” he added. “We asked to set up a meeting but she said we had to submit a formal letter and only one person.”

However, not all employees share Milorv’s fervor. In fact, some not only do not want to join in the fight, but they also disagree with the reasons behind the fight itself.

“Most of the union employees do not want this fight. Sodexho treats us very well and so does the university,” said a Sodexho union employee in an anonymous letter to The Mirror. “Most employees are guaranteed 40 hours a week, so it only affects a few people.

“The union is doing this only because our union contract is up this year and they want to create havoc on campus,” they added.

According to university officials, no benefits will be lost and all workers who have been guaranteed 40 hours a week will retain those hours.

“The two main fights are the cutting of hours and the contract negotiations,” said Bunton, the union organizer for the workers. “The fact is that both are bumping up against each other now.”

Every spring semester for the past few years, Fairfield has reduced the number of man-hours needed at their food outlets due to decreased enrollment in the meal plan. Fairfield retains that right to do so according to the contract between Sodexho, the university and its workers.

“This spring, we encountered the biggest drop in meal plan participants that I have seen,” said Mark Tammone, food service director for Sodexho. “This year, it was about 12 percent of students while in the past it has been seven to eight percent.”

The administration has also placed the blame for the decreased hours on the higher number of students who went abroad.

“The past four years, entering spring, the workforce has been reduced due to drops in enrollment, and this is not a new process,” said Jim Fitzpatrick, assistant vice president of student services.

This fall, the Study Abroad office reported that a total of 250 students participated in the program during the 2004-2005 school year. Sixty-five students chose to go abroad in the fall while 185 recently left for a spring semester.

“The numbers between the fall and the spring are very unbalanced,” said Susan Fitzgerald, director of international education. “Approximately, 250 students study abroad for a semester each year.”

While there are obviously less students on campus, some workers are left wondering what effect the juniors actually have on the food services.

“When we are serving one thousand kids or more a day, 100 or so isn’t going to make that big of a deal,” said Joe Milorv. “And, those kids that left in the fall are back now.”

While many juniors are not on full dining hall meal plans because of upperclass privileges, many Kostka-Claver residents and even townhouse residents still utilize the university food plans.

“A drop in students on voluntary plans, cash sales, or snack vending machines sales all have an impact on the food service,” Fitzpatrick said.

Contract negotiations between Sodexho and the labor union occur every five years. Fairfield University, however, is not involved in the labor negotiations. Sodexho is contracted to handle them.

“The university employs Sodexho to provide a service, namely the food service,” said Jim Fitzpatrick. “We haven’t been involved at all [in the negotiations] and it’s been our policy since the union has been in effect,” Fitzpatrick said.

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