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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Sodexho Workers Continue to Press for UC Jobs Amid Hardball Tactics by Vanderhoef

Yesterday I got a call from the campaigners for the Sodexho Workers that there was a meeting between Chanceller Vanderhoef, Vice Chanceller Dennis Shimek, an ASUCD Senator Andrew Peake, Patricia Zermeno a student career worker, and a Food Service Worker. The meeting was ostensibly to discuss possible solutions to the dispute and a means to arrive at a settlement whereby the Sodexho Food Service workers would get UC jobs.

A number of supporters gathered as well. This time without signs, without chants, they were just there to support the meeting. They tried to wait outside for the decision, but were locked out of the fifth floor of Mrak hall. They locked down the elevators, locked down the stairwell, and posted at a guard at the top of the stairwell preventing anyone from getting in.

The California Aggie was apparently called and refused to report on it, since according to them, this was not newsworthy.

According to one of the organizers, Katie Davalos, a UC Davis student:
"The chancellor wants the opportunity to explain the chancellor's side of this issue, and issue a statement, and Patty is going to issue our statement, and let them know what our opinions are and where we're coming from. We're also giving them a packet of information with facts, statistics, and a list of our supporters to let them know what we're talking about. Basically from there they're just going to discuss the issues and we're hoping to get a union organizer in there that can actually start negotiations, but right now they are not letting anyone from the union in. They are not talking to anyone."
The chancellor refused to allow any union organizers into the meeting. Some of them managed to get up to the fifth floor before it was shutdown, but they were denied any union representation in the meeting itself.

As I was outside taking pictures, it apparently was about to turn 5:00 pm. I walked toward Mrak Hall and reached for the door. Suddenly, the door was pulled shut just as I reached for it and locked. I looked up and there was Robin Souza, wife of City councilmember Stephen Souza, shutting the door and preventing anyone else from getting inside. She also pulled the door shut behind other students who were exiting the building. Ms. Souza works for the admissions office in Mrak Hall.

I spoke briefly with Stephen Souza last night before the Davis City Council meeting and he said that Robin Souza was very upset about the actions of the activists. That they had banged on the glass so hard at their May 23rd demonstration that it nearly broke the glass and this left the employees inside traumatized psychologically. They were under strict orders to lock and close the building Tuesday precisely at 5 pm.

It is unclear why the university is putting its employees in the position of being "security guards" at the door--as this is not a part of their job description. While I'm sure that the situation on May 23, 2007 was at times uncomfortable for the employees, it is also important to keep in mind, that it must be very tough to try to survive on such low wages and poor benefits. The organizers had attempted to rally in the streets on May 1, 2007, and were ignored by administration and thus had to take their action directly to Vanderhoef. It is unfortunate that other employees got caught up in this, however, Vanderhoef is pitting employees against employees as well as students against workers, in his bid to break the will of the organizers.

In contrast to the Souzas, Councilmember Lamar Heystek arrived at the protest to show his support for the students and the Sodexho workers on his way to the evening's city council meeting.

The negotiators came out of the building, visibly distraught at their treatment by Vanderhoef and especially Vice Chancellor Dennis Shimek. Apparently, Shimek during the talks got into the face of one of the students, which was a very intimidating situation.

According to Patricia Zarmeno,
"They are not really actively seeking a way for us to have UC jobs. They know that the issue exists, but they are looking for every other single way possible except for the actual solution. "
Zarmeno did not believe that the university was sincere in holding these talks. They did not appear to be seeking any kind of solution or resolution.
"I feel like we're in the exact same spot we were before we even had this meeting."
There were complaints by both Zarmeno and the Food Service worker who was at the meeting as well that they did not respect them. There was a strong implication that this had to do with the fact that they were both Latina females.

According to Zarmeno:
"They would interrupt us all the time, asking us questions, specifically when I stated that I wanted to finish my statement, I was not respected at all, when I was in the hallway, we were talking about this meeting, Shimek said something about us misunderstanding the purpose of the meeting, and I wanted to clarify, and he cut me off and said that I should let him and Andrew [Peake] finish, and I said fine, I let them have their conversation until the very end of the conversation, then I clarified my point, and clarified that we do understand what the purpose of the meeting was, it is important to have the university represented, and he completely cuts me off and tries to disregard me, and so I asked him to please let me finish, because I respected their request, and he should respect mine as well, and he still didn't let me finish my view, and I finished it anyway... "
The lack of respect was evident.
"I did not feel very respected in that meeting at all... They had this meeting to say that are listening to your views, but we are not going to actually listen to them. We are just going to keep going the way they wanted to originally."
There was frustration at the tactics and the process, but also very clear conviction on the part of the students. The administration had the clear intention of pitting the workers against the students in these talks and breaking the will of the protesters. They dismissed them as representing only a small minority of the students and a small minority of the food service workers.

However, the protesters made the point that the May 1, 2007 action shows that they are not in the minority. Moreover, there is a letter signed by 9 of the 12 ASUCD Senators that demonstrates the strong support that the students have for the Food Service Workers' movement to become UC employees.

Assemblyman Dave Jones and Assemblywoman Lois Wolk will also be meeting with the Chancellor to express their strong conviction that this process is wrong and to complain about the university tactics.

The activists vowed to press on through the summer and fall and to continue to make things as uncomfortable for the Chancellor as possible until there is a real resolution and conviction on the part of the university to change their tactics and their viewpoint.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting