Last Wednesday, organizers from UNITE HERE, a labor union protesting for worker rights throughout the United States and Canada, passed out flyers to students, faculty and staff on campus protesting recent policy changes within Sodexo, a food service provider contracted by Seattle Pacific. Organizers gathered in the streets and sidewalks around campus and in Gwinn Commons to talk with students about the changes and invite them to show their support.
Freshman Joseph Heindel said that he was eating breakfast in Gwinn at around 8 a.m. when organizers started to spread their flyers across the cafeteria.
“[The organizers] walked by and started setting flyers out on the table,” Heindel said. “They looked like the type of flyers that would be handed out and instantly thrown away if this was happening on the streets.”
At around 8:20 a.m., the organizers were escorted out of Gwinn by Safety and Security after being told to leave several times by Gwinn employees.At about 11:30 a.m., organizers entered into Gwinn again.Professor of Communication Bill Purcell said that he was eating lunch in Gwinn when the organizers entered for the second time.
“People came through and would come to the tables and politely ask if they would like a piece of literature,” Purcell said. “They were very professional.”
In an email, Director of Safety and Security Mark Reid said that because Gwinn is reserved for paying patrons, Safety and Security escorted the organizers out of Gwinn and back onto public property.
In UNITE HERE’s flyer, organizers explained that Sodexo has recently reclassified some of its workers as part-time, regardless of the number of hours they work or if they had previously been recognized as full-time.
“We don’t know whether Sodexo has made these changes at Seattle Pacific University, but this reclassification has abruptly stripped other workers of access to benefits available to workers,” the flyer said.
“Sodexo has repeatedly referred to the Affordable Care Act in its public statements…but the ACA doesn’t require this specific change.”
Under the Affordable Care Act, companies are allowed to redefine which workers receive medical insurance, an expensive benefit that can be reduced by changing a worker’s classification from full-time to part-time. A public statement posted on the Sodexo website reads “Sodexo is aligning how we define benefits eligibility for our health and welfare benefits with federal requirements and definitions to avoid potential penalties…we made this decision to ensure compliance with the Affordable Care Act and to maintain our competitiveness in the market.”
The statement explains that under the new policy, full-time employees are required to work 30 hours or more per week over a 52-week period. Before the policy change, Sodexo defined a full-time employee as a person who worked 30 hours per week for six or more weeks each quarter. Sodexo, which employs more than 120,000 workers, is the only one of the three major food service contractors that has implemented this change.
Because college workers usually take breaks for summers and vacations, many workers will not meet the new full-time requirements. In addition to universities such as SPU, Gonzaga and Whitworth, Sodexo has contracts nationwide with hospitals, military bases, clinics, and nursing facilities.
Senior Brennan Ralston, who has worked in Gwinn for four years, said that because he is a student employee, he wasn’t informed of any changes in Sodexo policy.
“All students employees are regulated to under 20 hours a week,” Ralston said. “We’re not notified of any changes because they don’t affect us.”
SPU policy requires all organizers and information distributers to gain permission from SPU administration before they are allowed to enter onto campus. Dean of Students for Community Life Joel Perez, who was also in Gwinn when the organizers entered the second time, said that SPU is following up with UNITE HERE’s claims.
“We are following up as an institution to learn more about what the article said and how Sodexo is responding to it,” Perez said.