On the payroll

After a two-year battle during which police arrested nonviolent protesters, Sodexho food-service workers at UC Davis have won recognition as university employees. The result will be higher wages, better benefits and labor representation for 200 career workers and 450 student workers and more than $2 million in added annual costs for the university.

“I’m really happy,” said Kevin Cole, a Tercero dining hall cook.

“We are very excited,” said Lidia Uribe, a cook in Segundo dining hall.

In announcing the decision on April 17, UC Davis Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef said, “We arrived at this new direction only after an engaged, thoughtful and collaborative process.”

Last spring, the Associated Students of the UCD Senate passed a resolution calling for Sodexho workers to be recognized as UC employees. Students Organizing for Change joined university faculty and Sodexho workers in a May Day sit-down rally in downtown Davis that led to several arrests. The Yolo County district attorney is still prosecuting some protesters.

Davis was the last campus in the UC system to employ private food-service workers. Sodexho is under contract to manage UC Davis food-service operations through 2010. The multibillion-dollar French firm’s business relationship with the university dates back to 1971.

“The UC Davis administration finally acknowledged that excluding workers from the community is unsustainable and contradicts the core mission of the university’s principles of community,” said Max Alper, lead organizer with Local 3299 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which will represent the Sodexho work force.

However, Alper criticized the UC Davis administration’s decision-making process, alleging there were closed-door meetings with Sodexho that excluded workers and AFSCME Local 3299.

They were represented in spirit, said university spokesman Mitchel Benson: “The union’s request to convert the employees to University of California employees was certainly a factor considered in our review.”

Converting Sodexho workers to direct university employment breaks down to a cost of 17 cents a day per each UC Davis student. But the food-service employees still face a nine-month to one-year transition period, which does not sit well with Cole and Uribe. “We need a voice and protection today,” Uribe said.

Administrators at UC Santa Cruz four years ago made a spring announcement to convert food-service workers to university employment, and by that fall, they were on the UC payroll, said Alper, who backs a similar time frame at Davis.

Negotiations to amend the Sodexho-UC Davis contract could begin this week, Alper said.