by Robert Heltzel
This upcoming October 10th will mark the first anniversary of the day members of my Alma mater, Hiram College, stared down a bloated, corporate monster by the name of Sodexo and crassly quipped "Your fly is open. Get out." I write this article in remembrance of that fantastic, weird, and historic day.
For an entire year I had watched as the demeanor of my friends in the Hiram College cafeteria sank to abyssal lows under the boot of Sodexo Corporation, which had taken over our dining services in 2007. Pompous supervisors barked orders at cooks and dishwashers. People who had been managers from years long before Sodexo were shunted aside and told to take orders from suited snobs with titles like "District Manager." The cleaning crew was removed, forcing the same people preparing the food to also clean the facilities. Already low student employment dropped and enormous amounts of labor were foisted upon fewer employees. Nobody really knew what to do until some brave women decided that they wanted a change, and needed it fast.
On a Sunday afternoon two friends of mine, Wendy and Linda, women who had been employees in the dining hall for years, asked me to meet them in the afternoon.... in the back of the parking lot behind the kitchen. This was not an invitation to go raccoon-watching but rather a covert request from them (since disagreement with the Sodexo Empire is not tolerated) that I type and edit a letter they had written expressing their discontent with the workplace environment. But not only did this letter spell out what their problems were with the pricks in charge it also expressed that they were to walk out in a strike against the Sodexo management! They were fed up and ready to do something about it! I rushed the news to students that I knew would assist in their cause and hastily we created a plan of how to best call attention to the abuses happening at the hands of Sodexo. Shutting out the usual college distractions we came together to help people that needed our defense. And we damn well delivered.
Three days passed and at 11:00 am on an overcast Wednesday morning students stormed the cafeteria, joined the workers, and together confronted the abominable general manager, John Cahill, firmly declaring to him that we were through with the bullshit that had become knee-deep at the dining hall. Handing him our demands we then headed straight for college president Tom Chema’s office and upon finding him absent, parked ourselves in the plush lobby and awaited a response from the administration. Ultimately we were able to get the answers we wanted. Meetings were arranged, cheesy smiles flashed by college officials, and everyone dispersed. We had made our statement heard.
It wasn’t until November 5th that real results came when, as I was scanning the school’s internet forum I noticed a post from the school president plainly entitled "Sodexo Dining". I clicked and read with excitement as Tommy boy stated that "I have notified Sodexho Dining that Hiram College will exercise its option to separate from them in 60 days.” Sodexo was getting the ax! There were a few blemishes in the plan, however. Sodexo would, inexplicably, remain in the maintenance and cleaning services, despite the shoddy job they had done with managing the employees there. In addition to this the college decided to continue outsourcing our dining services, this time to AVI Foodsystems Incorporated, based out of Warren, OH. I was disconcerted that the college had not learned its lesson about outsourcing, but at least we would be working with a company only 45 minutes away. It was an okay start, and as I type this it is to my understanding that AVI has been treating my friends exponentially better than Sodexo ever did. Provided they keep to their word about being an ethically run business, they should experience a much smoother time at Hiram than the irresponsible losers before them.
In the end we students and workers were the victors. We kicked a corporate lunatic in the crotch and let them know that we took care of our own. Rejected and removed, Sodexo felt the full bite of a revolt. May it happen everywhere.