Vermont Fair Food Campaign: A letter to Sodexo management

Editor’s note: This commentary is an open letter to the management of Sodexo written by the Vermont Fair Food Campaign. Concerned students, faculty and Burlington residents are gathering petitions signatures, which will be delivered along with this letter, to the general management of Sodexo at UVM in November.

UVM students, faculty/staff, community groups, labor unions, and Burlington residents are angry about Sodexo’s exploitative practices toward its workers, and have joined together with the Vermont Fair Food Campaign and Students Stand Up! to address this unacceptable conduct.

Not only do a majority of Sodexo employees make unlivable wages (anything less than $12.48/hour, according to the Vermont State Legislature), now this multi-billion-dollar corporation is trying to cut benefits for its employees too.

Sodexo claims it’s being forced to cut employees’ health care, retirement, life insurance, sick leave and vacation time because of the Affordable Healthcare Act. This is completely untrue. Nothing in the new health care law requires any company to stop providing benefits to workers. Sodexo says they’re “redefining” what it means to be “full time” in accordance with the ACA, but the decision to cut benefits is theirs and theirs alone. Sodexo has the ability and the money to continue providing benefits to all employees who currently have them. Sodexo has said it’s taking away employees’ benefits in order to maintain “market competitiveness” — a ridiculous notion considering that Sodexo is the second-largest food service corporation in the world and will make $12.3 billion in profits this year.

Sodexo thinks a small pay increase can make up for everything they’re taking away from its workers — but tell that to the dining hall veteran who stands to lose retirement after 20 years with the company, or to the working parent who will have to lose a day of pay in order to stay home with a sick child.


We believe that all people (especially those who make and handle food for a living) should have paid sick days. These proposed cutbacks will mean that Sodexo workers who currently have paid sick days will lose them. It will also strip workers of their vacation time, retirement benefits and other necessities they and their families depend on.

Sodexo thinks a small pay increase can make up for everything they’re taking away from its workers — but tell that to the dining hall veteran who stands to lose retirement after 20 years with the company, or to the working parent who will have to lose a day of pay in order to stay home with a sick child.

Sodexo employees have been told by management that they’re not allowed to talk about these cuts and aren’t even allowed to accept outside literature informing them of their rights! Dining hall managers have even gone so far as to confiscate literature from employees because it contradicted management. Not only are these gross violations of workers’ dignity, they are violations of federal law under the National Labor Relations Act.

Most laughably, Sodexo claims that it “cares about” and is “deeply committed” to its employees. Being committed to employees is NOT paying them poverty wages. Being committed to employees is NOT taking away retirement from people who have worked for you for 10, 15, 20 years (or longer). Caring about employees is NOT denying them health care. Caring about employees is NOT stripping them of sick leave and vacation time. And caring about employees is CERTAINLY NOT silencing them or denying their freedom of speech.

We stand in solidarity with the hard-working employees of Sodexo in opposing these cuts and demand that Sodexo management immediately:

  1. Reverse its unnecessary cutback policy and continue to provide benefits to employees who currently receive them;
  2. Publicly acknowledge the rights of its workers to organize, and inform all employees that they have a legal right to speak out about workplace conditions, to accept information from outside sources, and to make up their own minds about these issues without pressure from management;
  3. Extend paid sick days to all Sodexo employees, whether part-time or full-time. Those of us who make up the students & staff of the UVM community don’t want the hard-working employees who serve us every day to be forced to come to work sick or be penalized because they are ill.


  1. Dave Bellini :

    Is UVM still paying their ex-president his enormous salary for not working? If so, UVM could divert that waste of money to help out the people that actually work.

  2. James Maroney :

    Students may be interested to know that America’s food system is dependent upon exploiting farmers too, like dairy farmers for example who routinely sell, have no choice but to sell, their milk below what it costs to make. Ever wonder how it is that a 12 oz can of Coke costs only $1 and has virtually nothing in it but sugar and water when a gallon of milk costs only $3?

  3. Linda Quackenbush :

    As a former Chef I have had the pleasure of working for the Sodexo corporation. They were very sympathetic to my needs as a new Mother in 1995. The “benefits” were excellent and the pay was appropriate for the work that was done. I received holiday pay, sick days and the Summers off. It was a win-win for anyone that had a family. If I had wanted to make more money I could work more hours in other campus kitchens including off-site catering. There was always money to be made but one had to “work” for it.

    Also, as a Professional Chef, I have a Culinary degree but I didn’t get paid anymore than my boss who had been working at UVM for 17 years. I can attest that working for any large food institution has been a very positive and rewarding experience. I never saw the need to organize labor. We worked together as a team and quite honestly it was quite fun…

    • Janice Prindle :

      So the fact that you had fun working there nearly 20 years ago makes up for the loss of the benefits you enjoyed, for all of the people working there now? They should just bask in the warmth of your experience?

      • Linda Quackenbush :

        I have been thru bankruptcy and I have been homeless. These two life experiences were the most frightening and sobering experiences of my life. I moved to Vermont in search of a job after my catering company failed in Massachusetts. Let me explain why it failed. The University to which I was employed as an off-site caterer was illegally using Federal grant dollars on its catering events. The Federal government did an internal audit and fined the institution hundreds of thousands of dollars for noncompliance of its allocated federal monies. At that very moment ALL off-premise catering was shut down! You have absolutely no idea what that does to a person. I had just found out that I was pregnant with my first child and had no income! I moved to Vermont to be closer to family and for monetary support until I found a JOB. UVM food service was a wonderful job and the people I worked with were extremely hard working. My boss always provided me with extra work if I needed to make more money. They more than accommodated me by giving me a job. The benefits were an added “benefit”…

        The loss of benefits is a direct result of the US government spending too much and not working…The government needs to FAIL in order to succeed. I failed with my catering business and quite honestly it was the best thing to ever happen…I’m now a very successful business owner!

  4. Janice Prindle :

    I am sorry for your troubles, really, and I have had plenty of my own, but this article isn’t about us, it is about a number of employees suddenly cut off from what I’d consider essential benefits, and with their labor rights apparently violated in the process.

    I don’t think government needs to fail to succeed, either.

    • Linda Quackenbush :

      Everybody’s health benefits are being cut off by this “TOO BIG TO FAIL” government “except” for the very people(politicians) who enacted this legislation! The Teamsters Union President James Hoffa has also stated that the ACA is a “trainwreck” for for his union members.

      Governmental monopolies of healthcare get in the way of the FREE MARKET SYSTEM.
      Got a letter today from our insurance company saying that all of our and employee medical benefits have been “canceled” due to Obamacare. Furthermore the government needs to fail because we’re $17 trillion dollars in debt and it affects each and everyone of us!

      • Janice Prindle :

        There is no FREE MARKET SYSTEM. Businesses are not competing on a level playing field. We, the taxpayers, are subsidizing many of them, like Walmart, the fast food chains, and now apparently like Sodexo, that do not provide a living wage and benefits to their employees. This subsidy comes in many forms, from food assistance to increased health costs for those who have insurance; not to mention huge tax breaks even for companies like Apple and Microsoft that would rather ship jobs and profits overseas than pay taxes and invest in jobs at home. And we subsidize business through a lax regulatory system that lets corporate executives from companies like Monsanto go back and forth between their company positions and their “stewardship” at federal agencies like the USDA, where they create the most favorable policies (no testing of pesticide-laced GMO foods).
        Of course small business owners are not able to compete with them, any more than workers whose hard-won rights to be treated like people, not field animals, are being stripped away. But a truly “free market” is not the answer; it is a myth, and has never been an economic reality.

        And there are no government monopolies of health care. That’s just crazy. Regulation, yes, and thank goodness for that. And anyone who claims to want a free market system should appreciate that under Obamacare, the regulations create a more level playing field for insurance companies and for businesses (above a certain size). They all have to meet certain basic standards of coverage, including not discriminating against women (why should men get covered for Viagra, but women not get covered for birth control?). Why should this business suffer for doing the right thing by its employees while that one gets away with doing nothing?
        And you are just plain wrong, wrong, wrong that everyone’s health benefits are being cut off. If yours are, that is the fault of your employer, but now you have a recourse under Obamacare to buy insurance at a much lower rate, and potentially with a subsidy if your income is low enough, and your insurer can’t take a microscope to your medical record and try to extort more money out of you because of any prior medical history.

  5. David Dempsey :

    Does the government tell farmers how much to pay illegal immigrants to work on their farms. Of course not. Politicians that don’t support farmers, even if the ones that are losing money, are few and far between. All businesses, whether it is farming, small businesses or large corporations, need to make money to stay in business, just like I need to make money to pay my bills. Goverment mandates on businesses will cause consumer costs to rise and/or force some businesses to close, causing job losses.



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