Faculty urges administration to release ‘just’ plan for Sodexo workers

Sanjali De Silva, Senior Staff Reporter

With approximately 400 students remaining on campus during the coronavirus pandemic, work for Tulane’s dining and janitorial staff has nearly disappeared, prompting more than 200 members of the Tulane faculty to sign a petition asking for protections for these workers. 

The majority of Tulane’s dining and janitorial staff are contracted through Sodexo, an international food service and facilities management company. These workers’ benefits, including paid emergency leave and sick days, are determined by a joint agreement through Tulane and Sodexo. 

With the unprecedented circumstances of the coronavirus, Tulane’s administration has yet to release a formal plan for what benefits and accommodations Tulane’s Sodexo employees will receive during the coronavirus pandemic and has not confirmed whether any employees will be laid off. However, Mike Strecker, executive director of public relations, when asked further, clarified that as of now the administration has no plans to reduce the workforce. 

During a monthly meeting of the Tulane chapter of the American Association of University Professors, faculty members raised concerns about the fate of these employees.

Following these conversations, Associate Professors of History Laura Adderley and Jana Lipman drafted a petition, calling on the university to do the “right thing.” 

The petition specifically calls for assurance that Sodexo workers continue to be paid through the duration of the spring semester, including paid emergency leave and sick days and confirmation that they would not be laid off. 

“It’s the proper ethical thing to do, is to try to work out some plan for them,” Adderley said. “At least so that they can have, in an ideal world, normal income or something approaching it through May because that’s the family’s budget on the line.” 

In fewer than 24 hours, more than 200 faculty members signed the petition. 

“Our impression that people were concerned was correct,” Adderley said. 

The petition was sent to President Mike Fitts, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Robin Forman and Chief Operating Officer Patrick Norton on Sunday, March 15.

According to Adderley, the administrators responded by thanking the faculty members for their concerns but have not announced any plans to address benefits for Tulane’s Sodexo employees.

Sodexo announced on Thursday, March 12, that it would extend paid sick leave for all employees in the U.S. impacted by the coronavirus. The policy includes full-time and part-time employees and allows for up to 21 work days if they have a confirmed case of the novel coronavirus or are asked to stay home from work due to symptoms.

“Tulane’s administration has been in constant communication with Sodexo, who has committed to maintaining their workforce as long as possible while they explore options to reassign duties across their areas of operations in support of Tulane,” Strecker said.

Sodexo’s policy did not address paid emergency leave or layoffs. 

“If Sodexo does something that doesn’t meet Tulane’s values then we should act differently,” Adderley said. 

Students shared similar concerns about how Sodexo workers would be affected. Sophomore Nicole LaCour started a petition calling on Tulane students to send any remaining housing or meal plan fees to Sodexo workers. 

“I am urging you to consider not only Tulane families, but also our employees when reimbursing the remaining housing and meal plan money,” LaCour wrote in an email to Fitts. 

Adderley said she hopes the administration will release a plan to the entire Tulane community this week, just as it did for plans for students, faculty and staff.

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