Sodexo employees at TCU will vote on labor union membership next week in reaction to recent benefits cuts.
The election will determine if Sodexo workers at TCU Dining Services locations will be able to join the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) labor union.
“[The workers] want a secure union contract that shows their wages, their benefits, raises, everything laid out in a contract so they can have a sense of security,” said Abraham Wangnoo, an organizer with UFCW’s Local 1000 union, which represents food retail and production workers in Texas and Oklahoma.
The UFCW filed a petition for a union election on Feb. 10, said Martha Kinard, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Regional Director of the Fort Worth Regional Office.
The NLRB is a federal agency tasked with conducting union representation elections and investigating charges of unfair labor practices. The NLRB’s Region 16 office serves most of Texas and part of Arkansas.
Wangnoo said recent benefits cuts to Sodexo employees at TCU were the main reason for the election petition and the vote next week.
Sodexo, citing the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), announced last fall that the company would restructure its definitions of part-time and full-time employment.
At TCU and other universities, time periods with lower student traffic, such as breaks within and between semesters, mean less work for dining services employees.
This prevented some employees at Market Square from meeting the new threshold for full-time employment, which covers the entire year instead of quarter-year periods.
Five employees who talked to TCU 360 in a group interview facilitated by Wangnoo described the allocation of work during university breaks. They identified as Sodexo workers at TCU and declined to provide their names for fear of losing their jobs.
“[Before summer] there’s a paper that goes around and we sign it if we want to work and we check yes,” said one of the employees.
“The plan is to hope for the best, ask for the work and see if I get it. If not, file [for] unemployment [insurance],” he said. “That’s what we do every year.”
As many as 77 Dining Services employees at TCU were redefined as part-time employees under the new definition.
Wangnoo says these employees have lost benefits they previously had such as paid holidays, vacation days, health care benefits and sick leave. He says the changes have concerned some full-time employees as well.
“A number of employees I’ve spoken with are fearful that there’s no protection that guarantees that they’ll remain in that capacity.” said Wangnoo. “At any given time they can be moved or reclassified as a part-time worker.”
Wangnoo says unionized Sodexo workplaces can negotiate over changes in benefits and hours.
“Those workers get better wages and stronger benefits packages than they do here at TCU,” he said. “They can’t just go in and say we’re going to take things from you.”
Gregory Yost, senior manager of media relations at Sodexo, wrote in an email that the company works with more than 30 labor unions. He said more than 15 percent of Sodexo employees are union members through 330 collective bargaining agreements.
According to National Labor Relations Board policy, the election process for union representation begins with a petition that shows at least 30 percent of employees are interested in a union.
NLRB officials then confirm that the agency has jurisdiction over the matter, the petitioning union is qualified and that there is no existing labor contract barring an election.
Kinard said the employer and the petitioner, Sodexo and the UFCW respectively, agreed on an election date, election location and terms of who could vote in the election. Kinard said the list of eligible voters is not made public.
If more than half of the eligible Sodexo workers vote in favor of union membership, employees will be able to join UFCW’s Local 1000 union, pay dues and elect representatives to negotiate with Sodexo. Under Texas’ right-to-work status, employees are free to not join the union or pay its dues.
“Sodexo stands by the results of any valid secret ballot election that is monitored by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and is free of objectionable conduct,” Yost wrote.
Kinard said this the first recent effort by Sodexo workers at TCU to unionize.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated on Tuesday, March 18 at 6:44 p.m.