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April 29, 2010

Sodexo workers here call off strike


Some 200 striking Sodexo cafeteria workers at Pitt decided to return to their jobs yesterday, April 28, according to a union spokesperson.

The members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 32BJ had been working without a contract since a three-year pact expired Feb. 28. They walked off their jobs at Market Central and Sutherland Hall’s The Perch on April 26.

According to SEIU spokesperson Matt Painter, negotiations between SEIU and Sodexo have been ongoing since mid-February, but he said they have not been productive.

The striking workers have staged several protests on campus this week. Following yesterday’s protest near the Towers, Painter said the union received a call from a representative of Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato, who said Onorato would be willing to intervene in the stalled negotiations. As a result of the offer, the workers decided to return to their jobs, Painter said.

“After [the April 27] contract negotiations with Sodexo hit a hurdle and no new bargaining sessions were scheduled, we were planning to stay on strike and continue to hold rallies. But we’re hopeful with Mr. Onorato’s help we can reach an agreement that provides family-sustaining wage increases and affordable, quality health care coverage,” Painter said.

In addition to higher wages and lower health care costs, SEIU wants to organize some 150 other Sodexo workers on campus who are not union members, he said.

SEIU also has charged Sodexo with intimidation and harassment of its employees and last week filed several claims with the National Labor Relations Board, calling for an investigation into the company’s violations of federal labor law.

Sodexo is an international food service employer under contract with the University. About 350 Sodexo employees work at Pitt; 200 of them are SEIU members.

Sodexo spokesperson Monica Zimmer said, “We’re happy the strike is over and we’re pleased the workers have returned to their jobs. Sodexo cares for its workers and we respect all employees’ rights to unionize or not unionize as they choose.” She added that Sodexo has contracts with more than 300 unions and locals nationwide.

Zimmer said that Onorato’s offer is welcomed. “We got a letter [April 28] from SEIU that they have committed to continue negotiating, as we have, although the date for the next session has not been set yet,” Zimmer said. She noted that Sodexo is cooperating with the National Labor Relations Board and said the company expects to be exonerated of all charges.

—Peter Hart

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