Food service workers at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth will soon be voting on whether to join a union.
A union organizing campaign began after the workers’ employer, Sodexo, announced that it was redefining its definition of full-time employment, and as a result, dozens of TCU food service workers would be losing their health care and other benefits.
The announcement led workers to ask United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1000 to help them organize a union.
The workers and UFCW organizers formed TCU Sodexo Workers United, which has spearheaded the organizing campaign and in February petitioned the National Labor Relations board for a union election.
The election will held on March 24.
“[The workers] want a secure union contract that shows their wages, their benefits, raises, everything laid out in a contract so they can have a sense of security,” said Abraham Wangnoo, a UFCW organizer to TCU 360.
Sodexo, a global food service corporation that operates student dining halls at universities throughout the US, in the fall announced that it was changing its definition of full-time employees.
Before the change, Sodexo defined full-time work as 30 hours a week for six or more weeks each quarter.
The new definition requires workers to work an average of 30 hours a week over a 52-week period.
As a result of the change, 77 Sodexo workers at TCU were reclassified as part-time and will lose their health care and other benefits.
“Besides their health insurance, full-time Sodexo workers stand to lose eight paid holidays, five vacation days (more if employed more than five years) and up to 10 days of sick leave,” reads a posting on the TCU Sodexo Workers United Facebook page.
Sodexo justified its reclassification, which affects all Sodexo workers in the US, by saying that the company took the action to comply with the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), the US’ new health care law.
A more likely explanation is that Sodexo is taking advantage of a weakness in ACA.
ACA mandates that employers with 50 or more employees provide their workers with health care benefits, but the mandate doesn’t apply to part-time workers.
Food service work at TCU is seasonal. During the summer when there are fewer students on campus, there isn’t enough work for everybody.
Under the old definition of full-time employment, a worker could be laid off during the summer and return to work in the fall with her benefits intact.
But for some, that will no longer be the case.
Sodexo’s unilateral decision to redefine full-time work, caused concern among some full-time workers who won’t be affected by the reclassification.
“A number of employees I’ve spoken with are fearful that there’s no protection that guarantees that they’ll remain in that capacity.” said Wangnoo to TCU 360. “At any given time they can be moved or reclassified as a part-time worker.”
A collective bargaining agreement would provide workers with some protection and make their benefits more secure.