Protesters gather to perform ‘sodexorcism’

In an effort to take action against a recent Sodexo policy change, representatives from the VT Fair Food Campaign, Students Stand Up and United Academics gathered in protest.

The group organized a “sodexorcism” in an attempt to “exorcise Sodexo’s ‘demons’ of bad labor practices and corporate greed,” a Nov. 19 email from Kelly Mangan, Vermont Fair Food Campaign organizer said. 

“To take these folks that have been working for your company for years, who have done so at near-poverty wages, to turn around and take away their benefits and their retirement is dreadful,” she said. “What good does a wage increase do you if you’re sick and you have to go to work because you can’t take a day off?” 

Senior Jamie Jackson, a member of UVM Students Stand Up was instrumental in the “sodexorcism,” and expressed her concern for their employees.

“There have been so many instances of Sodexo having bad corporate practices,” she said. “And we want to show that we’re still here and we’re still supporting our community.”

The participants met on the walkway between the Davis Center and Bailey-Howe where a ‘vigil’ was held, Nov. 21.

The participants began a march inside the Davis Center, chanting “Students’ rights, workers’ rights; same troubles, same fight.” 

The group then gathered in the Mt. Mansfield room on the second floor where they held their “sodexorcism,” which consisted of speakers reading from a script that called for the symbolic purging of what they called Sodexo’s “foul” employment practices.

Junior Alex Weiss said he was impressed by the support from students they received. Weiss, who is currently in the process of starting an Agricultural, Food and Cooking Cooperative, said he was personally invested this initiative. 

 “Sodexo is going to have a say [in the Coopeartive], and I really want to have allies in Sodexo employees even if the company itself is going to be our enemy,” Weiss said.

First-year Mallory Foster said the movement attracted students and employees.

“It was an interesting concept,” she said. “It definitely got a lot of people’s attention.”

Before the demonstration, students delivered protest petitions to a Sodexo representative on campus. The petitions had previously been presented to a UVM trustee and included a combined 2,500 signatures, according to an article in the Burlington Free Press. 

Sodexo, the food services corporation that is contracted by UVM, serves over 15 million consumers at 9,000 client sites in North America alone, according to Sodexo’s website.

The corporation recently made headlines in the Burlington community for its August decision to change its definition of “full-time” employees as of Jan. 1 to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act, the Cynic reported Sept. 24. 

This decision would leave many hourly workers classified as part-time workers, causing them to lose their eligibility for many benefits, including employer-sponsored health insurance, the article said.

Sodexo, which grossed over $400,000,000 in profits last year, maintains that its commitment to its employees is genuine. The Vermont Department of Labor decided that Sodexo was acting in the right with its new policy, vtdigger.com reported Sept. 13.