The recent unionization of TCU’s Sodexo workers won’t affect dining services prices or operations in the near future, according to TCU’s vice chancellor for student affairs.
Kathy Cavins-Tull, the vice chancellor, wrote in an email that the university sets its own meal plan rates and that next year’s rates will not be affected by unionization.
“The rates for next year were set prior to the union vote,” Cavins-Tull wrote. “Students can expect the rate that was defined by the Board of Trustees at its fall meeting.”
Cavins-Tull said in an interview that she expected guests and students at TCU’s dining locations would be unaffected by a unionized workplace on campus.
“With our contract with Sodexo, we define the hours of operation, what services we need and want from them, and they supply that,” she said. “We’re new to this, but it’s our expectation that we’re going to get the same service as a university, and that’s a reasonable expectation based on the contract.”
For TCU Sodexo employees, the administration and the university itself, unionization at the university is a new process without much precedent.
TCU does not currently have any unionized workers nor a history of labor unions, Lisa Albert, director of university strategic communications, wrote in an email.
“TCU is kept aware of the situation and we continue to work with Sodexo to offer the best dining services we can for our students,” Albert said.
Both Cavins-Tull and Chancellor Victor Boschini said they supported the workers’ right to participate in a union vote.
“I feel strongly that people have the right to decide how they are represented and heard,” Cavins-Tull said.
“Whatever the [Sodexo] employees want is fine by me,” Boschini said.
Allison Messimer, a sophomore supply chain management and business information systems double major, asked Boschini at an April 1 town hall meeting how the employees’ unionization would affect students.
“We don’t know that yet and that’s the real truth, so we’ve got to find out,” Boschini replied. “I would hope that it wouldn’t affect students at all because it’s really between the employees and Sodexo.”
Michael Dahl, director of operations for TCU Dining Services, declined to comment on the implications of unionization on TCU students and dining services.
Laura Bucila, a TCU economics lecturer with an interest in labor and health economics, wrote in an email that increased labor costs from unionization would be reflected in smaller profits for Sodexo.
“If the workers’ requests are legitimate and their employer will meet them,” Bucila wrote, “we may expect some increases in the dining prices.”
At Northwestern University, a peer institution of TCU, meal plan prices jumped $200 in 2012 after a student-led campaign for higher wages helped secure a renewed union contract in 2011 with a $10 minimum wage, yearly raises and free health care.
Scott Brown, the Northwestern student who wrote an article detailing NU’s high meal plan prices, said the initial unionization of Northwestern workers occurred in 2005, several years before the price increase.
Cavins-Tull said the university’s contract with Sodexo also allows its employees and management team to interact and communicate with one another as they choose without administrative involvement.
Unlike public universities, TCU’s food service contract detailing contractor-employee relations with Sodexo is not available to the public or through public records requests.
Below are contracts from two public universities in Texas, Tarleton State and Texas A&M-Commerce.
At Texas A&M-Commerce, Sodexo is solely responsible for all employee or personnel actions on its payroll, according to the Texas A&M-Commerce food service contract with Sodexo.
Tarleton State University’s contract with Sodexo states that Sodexo “will make its own arrangements for any benefits it may desire.”
Cavins-Tull confirmed in an email that TCU’s contract with Sodexo has similar language to the contracts at Texas A&M-Commerce and Tarleton State. She added that she thought this is standard for contracted food service.
“We don’t get involved with them about the definition of benefits or pay or anything for their employees because that’s all done through Sodexo,” Cavins-Tull said.
Some university contracts with Sodexo, however, do include provisions saying Sodexo cannot make any substantial changes in wages, fringe benefits or working conditions without the administration’s approval.
In Vermont, the University of Vermont, the Vermont State College system and St. Michael’s College halted the benefits cuts to their Sodexo employees based on the structure of their contracts there. Those proposed benefits cuts took effect for TCU’s Sodexo employees Jan. 1.
“Once you start getting involved with how people interact with their own employees, I think that there’s some very interesting dynamics there,” Cavins-Tull said.
Cavins-Tull said other private contractors on campus, such as Roadrunner Charters, TCU’s shuttle service provider, would have to be treated the same under the type of contracts found in Vermont.
“Would we do that with everyone we do business with on campus?” Cavins-Tull asked. “I don’t know.”
With both union contract negotiations and the definition of wages and benefits, Cavins-Tull said the administration is removed from issues between employees and management.
“[The workers] will develop some goals for their organization and they will be working with the Sodexo management team to determine how they can best meet those goals,” Cavins-Tull said of the labor contract negotiation process.