Howard University Students Rally Behind Dining Staff To Secure Pay Hike and Benefits From Sodexo
In an emotional and triumphant moment, more than 250 Howard University students came together to rally in support of the university’s Sodexo dining employees, as reported by The Hilltop.
Earlier this week, students gathered before the Bethune Annex to support the dedicated employees who had been laboring for four years under their last contract. The dining staff were renegotiating their contracts with Sodexo while also advocating for improved working conditions. The students stood in solidarity by shouting chants and embracing the dining employees in the drizzling rain while awaiting the decision.
The solidarity shown by the students made an indelible impression. Elandrea Baker, a freshman majoring in political science and sociology, saw a post on Instagram about the dining employees’ struggle and felt compelled to show her support, telling The Hilltop, “I thought it’d be a fantastic way to get involved and show my support, especially for all the people who are super nice to us and cook all of our food.”
Hollis Coates, a cashier at Bethune Annex for 12 years, expressed her gratitude for the outpouring of support from Howard University students. Her eyes welled with tears as she addressed the crowd, conveying what their solidarity meant to her and her colleagues.
The result of their collective efforts was transformative.
According to Tabitha Johnson, an organizer and union representative of UNITE Here Local 23, the dining employees will enjoy several substantial improvements. By June 2024, they will receive free single-coverage health insurance. Their wages will see an immediate raise to $18 per hour, followed by an impressive $7.50 raise over four years, a significant improvement over the prior $2.20 raise spread across five years.
Additionally, they will be granted an extra sick day, increasing the total to nine. The workers will also benefit from a 50% match to their 401(k), ensuring their financial well-being. A joint labor-management committee, comprised of representatives from Sodexo and the union, will be established to oversee any misconduct by the workers.
While Sodexo representatives declined to comment on these developments, it was clear that the victory was mainly due to the unwavering support from the Howard University student body. Johnson emphasized that the students’ presence was instrumental in driving the deal to completion. She told The Hilltop, “That deal getting done that night is because of the students.”
The collective presence of the Howard students eventually led to the Sodexo representatives delaying their entrance into the hearing, seemingly intimated by the students’ strong show of support. They refused to acknowledge the students and chose not to enter the hearing until all students had left the building. Following a phone call to the police, students were encouraged to leave the building, although their vocal support continued outside.
Despite the students’ departure, their impact was significant. They chanted phrases like “Workers’ rights are Black rights,” “Pay your workers money, no one should go hungry,” and “Show me what solidarity looks like,” making it one of the most impressive shows of support by college students that Johnson had ever witnessed.
The dining employees were deeply appreciative of the students’ support. Samuel Foster, a receiver at Blackburn University Center, remarked, “This contract is probably the most reasonable one that I know about, and within the 25 years that I’ve been working here. If it had not been for the student support, I think it would have probably been drawn out much longer.”