Sodexo protesters to return to work

By Staff Report

Sodexo employees have called off their strike and… Sodexo employees have called off their strike and will return to work this week, a Sodexo representative said.

Monica Zimmer, director of public relations for Sodexo, said in an e-mail that representatives of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, which represents about 200 Sodexo employees who went on strike Monday, submitted an unconditional offer to return to work this morning. The workers have agreed to return to contract negotiations with Sodexo. The date of the next round of negotiations has yet to be determined, she said.

“Sodexo is pleased that the work disruption is over,” Zimmer said. “We care very much about our employees, and we look forward to having them back to work. We appreciate the understanding of the students, faculty, and the University of Pittsburgh community during this period.”

Union representatives could not be reached immediately this afternoon.

The announcement came after a protest in which nearly 200 Sodexo employees blocked the intersection of Forbes Avenue and Bouquet Street for about 10 minutes this morning. During the demonstration, which forced traffic to a stop between Bouquet Street and Interstate 376, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato called SEIU representatives and asked if they would continue negotiations.

“Executive Onorato reached out to us while we were in the street,” Gabe Morgan, a spokesman for the union protesting Sodexo, said at the protest. “Dan told me there is a long history in Allegheny County of labor and big business working together, and he expressed confidence that we can work this out through negotiations. We’re going to sit down again with Sodexo, but if they don’t make a fair offer we will be back.”

Kevin Evanto, a spokesman for Onorato, confirmed Morgan’s report. Evanto said that when Onorato got word that a disruption was planned he called SEIU leadership to suggest a more positive way to approach the issue.

“As of now Mr. Onorato will not be joining in the negotiations,” Evanto said. “He will be keeping a close eye on this issue as the SEIU and Sodexo move forward.”

Today’s demonstration proved to be the most outspoken yet, and saw several city councilmen in attendance, including Doug Shields and Bruce Kraus.

“I have always supported the SEIU,” said Kraus, who did not participate in blocking the street. “My mom has been a member for 20 years now. Any time an issue comes up like this — whether it’s the living wage or benefit disputes — I will be there.”

City police officer Jeff Barone said no one was arrested during the street blocking.

“The protests have been peaceful so far,” Barone said. “We haven’t had any problems.”

A number of Pitt students also joined today’s protest. Gabe McMorland, an urban studies major and member of Students in Solidarity with Service Workers, discussed his organization’s reasons for joining the protest.

“We endorse what the workers are doing,” McMorland said. “We encourage students to participate, but not to do anything extra that will get them arrested. Our group is going to be passing out flyers to try to get information out on the situation. Students need to be informed about this issue.”

Jordan Romanus, another Pitt student and Students in Solidarity with Service Workers member, said the group had a joint meeting with Students for a Democratic Society last night. The two groups discussed ways that students can participate in future protests.

“I know it’s annoying for students during finals week,” Romanus said. “If the students takes action and talk to the University, and put pressure of Sodexo, this will get resolved a lot quicker. We’ll get a solution that students and workers will be happy with.”