When students walk into saga, they enter an environment ripe with systematic flaws, employee abuse, and managerial incompetency. In the research process for this article, I was struck by the fear that many non-student workers displayed when confronted with the possibility of speaking out against their employer, to the point that I had to turn to student workers (who are protected by the school). Sodexo employees are genuinely afraid that even a word of open dissent could result in them losing their jobs. From that unfortunate starting point, I turned to the student workers (the one interviewed for this article wished to remain anonymous).
The first thing the student noted was the environment of fear is created at Saga by management. Employees are routinely screamed at in front of other students and staff. Causing emotional damage, especially to those who work outside serving food. Many workers maintain a very strict and monotone attitude due to this fact, which makes food service less enjoyable for everyone. Employees are made to know that they are replaceable, and that small mistakes will not be tolerated.
“Management just simply doesn’t care about us at all, they scream and yell at everyone in front of other students, including the disabled members of our staff,” the student said.
In the face of breakdowns and family emergencies, employees are indiscriminately reprimanded, publicly and harshly. Many workers have their jobs threatened in front of coworkers over things like requested time off and personal or family-related matters.
To make matters worse, poor organization and mismanagement make the job more difficult for workers. Shifts are assigned on a week-by-week basis with the caveat that hours are subject to change. This makes it very hard for student workers to keep a consistent schedule, something which many students find essential to succeed in college. Making other commitments becomes hazardous because hours are volatile, and missing work is an immediately fireable offense to some. Student workers are essentially restricted from joining clubs or extracurriculars for this reason.
A recent new rule made scheduling even more difficult for students and staff. It used to be that night shift workers were allowed to take food home after their shift, but that privilege has been removed. Managers claim that workers are “taking advantage of them” and Sodexo. This presents a serious problem for employees who have nowhere to go for food because the on-campus options are closed by the time their shifts end. This further contributes to systematic damage to workers’ mental health and disrupts students from pursuing their education.
Through all of these complaints, the student strongly emphasized the severe lack of oversight on the part of Sodexo. Many complaints over poor and abusive managerial behavior have been filed with HR over the last few years. This rarely leads to an investigation, and when it does, management has always gotten off clean without so much as a warning. Student workers are also unable to bring issues that they have up with HWS HR due to the nature of the school’s contract with Sodexo. That binding contract with the school, which sees the school paying Sodexo $13 million a year, secures Sodexo’s place at this school and ensures that HWS does not have the power to oversee operations in the dining hall. On the non-student side of things, saga workers on campus do not have a union. This leaves all workers without a confidant, and in constant fear of losing their jobs.
“The job is simply no longer a prestigious or desired position for local Geneva residents or students anymore,” the student said. Saga workers are paid $1.20 an hour more than other on-campus employees, and yet they currently are understaffed by a staggering 21 openings, in saga alone. This leads to an increase in workload for those who have continued working there, and it also slows turn-around from cooking to serving food. Not only has this mismanagement and abuse affected workers and their personal lives, but it affects students and our ability to comfortably dine at saga. But as Sodexo’s tired contract draws to a close, I sincerely hope that HWS makes the right decisions; keep the current non-student workers employed, ensure that HR of whatever company is activel y involved in keeping employees safe and comfortable, and finding a way to order a sufficient amount of food, so students don’t go hungry.