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Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

Student newspaper serving Tulane University, Uptown New Orleans

The Tulane Hullabaloo

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Tulane considering ending Sodexo contract at certain facilities

Tulane may not renew its contract with Sodexo for certain custodial services, but current employees will have the opportunity to switch to the new vendor. (Nathan Rich)

Tulane University is considering not renewing its contract with Sodexo for certain facilities on the Uptown campus, leaving the employment of approximately 150 custodial workers in the air, according to Tulane spokesperson Mike Strecker.

Most custodial and dining services staff at Tulane are employed by facility management companies, not Tulane itself. The employment of Sodexo staff working in residence halls, the Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life and custodial services on campus are therefore subject to negotiation and termination based on the contract decided between Tulane and Sodexo. 

Custodial worker Antoine Oates said he has been working for Sodexo at Tulane for about a year and three months. He said managers and supervisors are not giving staff information on whether the contract will be renewed. 

“I’m hearing a lot of hearsay,” Sodexo worker Deionne Duplessis said last month. “No one has put anything on paper before us and let us know what to do at this point. We have to wait until they tell us something concrete.” 

Staff said they have been told they will hear about the future of the contract in November or December. 

In July, a new vendor, ABM Industries, took over custodial services of the Reily Student Recreation Center, Diboll Complex and all athletic facilities. Custodial workers employed by Sodexo in these buildings were given the opportunity to switch to ABM employment, according to Strecker. 

Strecker said staff will be informed of any change in vendor well in advance and will have the opportunity to switch employers, keeping a $15 minimum wage and a benefits package equal or better than offered by Sodexo. 

Tulane Dining Services worker Kya Richardson said she is not concerned about the contract because staff will not lose their jobs. She estimates that most Sodexo employees would switch employers to keep working at the same Tulane facilities, but managers do not always have that option. 

“If the new company gives me more money and benefits, I’d definitely switch over to the new company,” Oates said. “[To] my knowledge, no supervisors and no managers are switching over. I think [the new vendor would] bring in their own supervisor and managers.”  

Louisiana is a “right-to-work” state, meaning that no individual can be compelled to join a union or pay union fees as a condition of their employment, but are still protected under collective bargaining agreements. In practice, this creates a free-rider problem within unions, undermining their ability to finance and organize themselves effectively. 

The National Bureau of Economic Research reported between 2011 and 2017, states that adopted “right-to-work” laws experienced a decline in unionization and wages. 

Duplessis said she is a former union representative and worked under a union in California for 25 years before coming to work in New Orleans.

She said that working in a right-to-work state means that management can fire employees at will. There are no union protections that guarantee alternative employment, if the contract with Tulane were to be terminated, according to Duplessis. 

This summer, Sodexo workers at Loyola University New Orleans were successful in unionizing under Unite Here, a labor union of food service, transportation and hotel industry workers. These efforts are part of a nationwide push from Sodexo employees to unionize for higher wages. 

Loyola Sodexo union members have been in the negotiation process since May for higher wages, healthcare, insurance and a better work environment. So far, the workers have received a 3% wage increase, about 30 cents per paycheck. 

Sodexo currently employs more than 400,000 employees worldwide in food and facilities management services. In 2022, New Orleans Sodexo employees threatened a strike at the New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center to demand higher wages and more benefits. 

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