State to look into complaints against food service giant Sodexo

Employees at Sodexo, the French multinational food services company that operates dining halls at the University of Vermont, the Vermont State Colleges and elsewhere in the state, are bracing for the possibility that they’ll be demoted to part-time status and lose some of their benefits.

Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden, who is also an English professor at UVM, said he’s been “inundated with complaints” from food service workers at UVM. Baruth wrote a letter on their behalf Tuesday, asking Annie Noonan, the commissioner of the Department of Labor, to investigate.

Noonan said Thursday that her department is reviewing the allegations, and she plans to respond promptly. “We are pushing it to the top of our pile,” she said.

Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden

Sen. Philip Baruth, D-Chittenden

Sodexo workers at UVM have been reluctant to speak publicly about the matter but, according to Baruth, their concerns boil down to this — Sodexo is planning to cut back on hours, bringing “many” employees below the 30-hour per week mark in order to cut benefits. And it plans to “retaliate” against employees who go public with their concerns.

“They are serious and numerous, and I would be amazed if they weren’t telling the truth,” Baruth said of the complaints. “If they are true, I think the state needs to become involved sooner rather than later.”

Sodexo’s public relations manager, Enrico Dinges, said in an email response that the company isn’t reducing employees’ hours, and it isn’t discontinuing its benefits program for full-time employees. It is, however, changing its definition of a full-time employee. That could mean some employees will lose their full-time status and the benefits that come along with it, starting Jan. 1, 2014. According to Dingo, however, employees who are longer eligible for paid vacation and sick leave will receive an “equivalent increase in pay to compensate.”

That change, according to Dingo, will bring them into compliance with the Affordable Care Act.

“Discussions around Sodexo benefits for employees is likely related to our efforts to comply with the provisions mandated by the federal government as part of the Affordable Care Act. Although final regulations have not been announced, Sodexo is already working to be compliant with the Affordable Care Act and its guidelines,” he wrote.

Under the new definition, hourly non-exempt employees will be classified as full-time if they work an average of 30 hours or more per week over a 52-week period.  Under the current definition, an employee is full-time if he or she works 30 hours per week for six or more weeks each quarter.

Details about the policy changes are scant — it’s not clear whether Sodexo has a choice in the matter, whether employees will lose benefits, and, if so, how many.

Dingo said Sodexo, which has 125,000 employees at 9,000 locations in North America, won’t have a tally on the total number of affected employees until mid-October.

There is no substance to claims that Sodexo will retaliate against employees who speak out, according to Dingo. However, only one Sodexo employee on UVM’s campus would speak on the record on Thursday.

Bill Barbour, who works in utilities at the UVM’s Cook Commons Dining Hall, said he will no longer be considered a full-time employee because he doesn’t work during the summer, and the change will eliminate his sick time and vacation days. He does not have health care, but if he did, he said he would have lost that also.

“I don’t agree with it,” he said. “It’s not our fault that we’re closed in the summertime.”

Barbour said it is difficult to find summer work because he is committed to working full time with at the university dining halls during the school year.

The new policy was announced during an orientation for Sodexo employees and goes into effect Dec. 31, according to Barbour.

UVM officials said the matter is out of their hands. In response to a request for comment, the university’s communications director, Enrique Corredera, provided an email response.

“Sodexo has informed the University of Vermont that it is making some changes in its personnel policy to comply with legal requirements in the Affordable Care Act,” Corredera wrote. “Under our contractual relationship with Sodexo, the company is solely responsible and in control of its human resources decisions and actions.”

The issue also falls outside the jurisdiction of the state’s Labor Relations Board, since Sodexo is a private company operating in multiple states. But if Sodexo workers want to file a grievance, there are other avenues — the National Labor Relations Board, for instance. It’s also possible that the state’s Department of Labor has jurisdiction even if the Labor Relations Board doesn’t, Noonan said.

Noonan said the department will spell out these options when it responds to Baruth.

“We are looking at the issue and will respond point by point, explaining what is permitted under the law and what isn’t permitted under the law, and if it isn’t, where they might go,” Noonan said.

The commissioner said Thursday that she couldn’t weigh in on the validity of the complaints: “At this point it will be premature to tell you what I’m looking at, and I’m not going to get ahead of our formal analysis.” But she hopes to have addressed them all by Monday.

“We’re not going to deliberate for three weeks,” she said. “It’s not in anybody’s best interest. We can spend a lot of time on this or we can say, ‘this is our best quick analysis, senator.’”

On Wednesday, Sodexo informed Vermont State Colleges officials that it was making changes to its personnel policy, but VSC officials are still trying to parse the implications, according to communications director Dan Smith.

“We’re still figuring it out,” Smith said, adding that he wasn’t aware of any complaints among Sodexo workers on the VSC campuses.

Sodexo has other sites in Vermont, as well; the company has not responded to a request for a complete list.

Editor’s note: This story was updated with more information from Sodexo at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 6.

Follow Alicia on Twitter @aefreese

Alicia FreeseAlicia Freese

Comments

  1. Stan Hopson :

    Well well well, another causality of Obamacare. It’s the new normal, part time is the new full time. Can’t wait to see what the uber liberal geniuses in state government do to put an end to a policy they supported because our legislators failed to READ THE BILL.

    You all get what you deserve at this point.

    • It will be interesting to watch the state sue Sodexho for decreasing benefits as a result of the state’s public policy implementation.

    • Peter Starr :

      I understand where you are coming from, but what does this have to do with taking away ALL Sick Days? or any Days off at all ! – This is no small Business, This is an International Conglomerate !

  2. Dave Bellini :

    “Dingo has not responded to a request for an explanation of how the new policy differs from the previous one.”

    “The company has not responded to an inquiry about the allegation that it issued a gag order on employees.”

    “the company has not responded to a request for a complete list.”

    “UVM officials said the matter is out of their hands.”

    The primary purpose of public relations directors or communications specialists is to NOT say anything when they talk.

  3. Shouldn’t the title of the article be “Sodexo reduces hours due to ObamaCare implementation”? If anything, since the Shumlin administration has tripped over itself to try to be the first state to comply with the regulations, shouldn’t Shumlin be taking credit for this wonderful development for Sodexho employees?

  4. Randal Murray :

    This article acts like the state is surprised and are going to look into it. This is going on everywhere. If we don’t defund this stupid stupid law, it will bankrupt us. How can our elected officials not see this?

  5. Craig Powers :

    Consequences of poorly thought out legislation? I would say, yes.

    Good job Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Prez Obama. Maybe you should read the bill next time. Let’s not forget the super majority in Montpelier either.

    I agree Stan, you get what you voted for.

  6. Steve Allen :

    Sodexo is following the law. THEY didn’t make the law that states full time is an average of 30 hours for 52 weeks. Your President and his staff is responsible for that.

    • jill belcher :

      Then they need to look at things on a different level when u work for a seasonal job and they HAVE NO work for u during the summer its not our fault then we get from full time loosing all our insurance, sick time and vacation, maybe for seasonal workers they should minimize the quota we have to make.. All this just makes no sense to me as the saying goes if its not broke don’t try to fix it..

  7. It is stunning to see a nation full of grown adult businessmen petulantly pointing to Barack Obama saying “HE made me do it!” in order to justify their own grown adult decisions. Age: still nothing but a number.

    The message is clear, though: any attempt to improve the standard of living for working Americans will result in negative consequences for working Americans. Balance sheets and profit margins are just more important. This should be taken into account by Left activists working for a Livable Wage — you’re really working for increased unemployment.

  8. Peter Starr :

    Sodexo is Hosing their Employees ….. Because they can!

    • Chris Campion :

      Sodexho has *costs*, which just went up, significantly. In order to maintain profitability – which is a polite way of saying “Businesses that lose money don’t stay in business very long” – they’re going to have to change their overall labor costs.

      Sodexho has contracts. They bid for them. They are likely the lowest bidder. If their costs go up, there’s probably very little wiggle room in Fee to cover the cost increase for labor – and boom, you’re now stuck in a negative position on a contract, not because you did something wrong, but because Shumlin and Barry changed the national employment math with a catastrophic policy initiative.

      The worst thing about people defending BarryCare is that they’re simply awful at math. Which probably helps explain their historic voting patterns.

  9. Stewart Skrill :

    OBAMACARE 101

    CAUSE and EFFECT

    1. CAUSE: The Affordable Care Act (aka, OBAMACARE) costs money to implement.

    2.EFFECT: Government only has money when it takes it from everyone.

    If you want the Affordable Care Act to stay alive, then do nothing,just complain to your friends. Complain, complain complain.

    If you really wish to do something. Sign the petition to de-fund the Act. This can be done easily. How?

    Go to DontFundit.Com and sign the petition. You do not have to make any donations whatsoever to be counted.

    Your voice can be heard load and clear as attested to by our disdain to yet another war, this time Syria.

    Wages are not a political issue, it is about taking back AMERICA! WE THE PEOPLE RUN THE SHOW! NOT THE POLITICIANS whom we pay to be OUR voice.

    YOUR CHOICE!

  10. Zachary Richard :

    id just like to say that sodexo (in my opinion) is one of the worst things to happen to the VT state college system. i have multiple allergies (in the form of eosinaphillic esaphagitis) and the manager at my school, when made aware, lied to my face and fed me food i was allergic to simply because he didnt have time to read labels. sodexo is a very irresponsible company, just ask any of the student employees

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