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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Sodexho Under Fire Over Column

In the wake of a Boston Globe columnist’s article bashing food service giant Sodexho’s treatment of former employee Mary Barry, the UMass Boston campus community has been abuzz with talk of the food service company’s treatment of its employees on the grounds of a university that caters to the working student.

The column, by Brian McGrory, charged that Mary Barry, who worked in UMB cafeterias for 25 years, was docked pay for leaving for her weekly cancer treatments 15 minutes early, then transferred to the Quinn Administration cafeteria without her consultation. As a result of this and the company’s removal of chairs from their employees, the 62 year-old was forced to retire after she was given no alternative, McGrory wrote.

On the heels of the column, UMB’s Labor Resource Center has circulated flyers displaying the column throughout campus in an effort to promote discussion.

“When I read this in the paper I was concerned about working conditions with workers in the cafeteria,” says Susan Moir, director of the Labor Resource Center. “I thought it was worth making this information a little more widely known on campus. As the Labor Resource Center it is out mission to be part of the struggle to improve worker’s conditions.”

Julie Sanabria, president of the professional staff union, says that the article has sparked a lot of e-mails within the union and has become part of their agenda. “We were pretty upset with all the charges with Sodexho and especially at how they’ve been treating their employees,” she says. “A lot of Sodexho employees are afraid to talk to union members…Sodexho is a non-union shop and they don’t take kindly to [union activity].”

The statement rang true when some were interviewed. The several Sodexho employees who did agree to comment would only do so on the condition of anonymity.

“A lot of people don’t want to speak up because they’ll lose their job,” explained one Sodexho worker.

Many feel that Mary Barry’s retirement was not voluntary and that the company could have taken steps to accommodate a well-liked employee with such an extensive tenure.

Some Sodexho employees see Barry’s treatment as typical of the company. “They treat us like toys, they cut hours without notice, and do what they want,” says one employee.

A veteran Sodexho employee agrees, calling it “the worst food service company we ever worked for as far as dealing with people.” This and other current employees count problems with vacation pay and use of sick time among their grievances. They further cite that doctor’s notes are required of those employees requesting seats available to them while on the job.

Employees at McCormack Hall’s coffee stands and in the Campus Center’s Atrium Café are not provided with seating. “We used to sit down but not any more. We stand…we stand all day,” said one employee.

“They don’t listen to employees. They don’t care if you have family, kids, lives. They care about the money not about the people,” added another.

Sodexho renewed its bid as food service provider on campus last spring. Campus Center administration official and former director of auxiliary services Forrest Speck says that the company was evaluated along with another bidder and was chosen by a committee comprised of staff, students, and consultants.

“One of the things we considered very strongly is personnel practices,” said Speck. On the Boston Globe column Speck added, “These things came out afterward. We’re looking further into it…Those are pretty serious charges. We’re going to be asking for the Sodexho side of it at the very least.”

Mike Berry, General Manager of Food Services for Sodexho at UMB, says the Globe column and the actual events that occurred prior to Mary Barry’s retirement are two different scenarios. He contends that the article makes it sound as if Barry had been working in the Campus Center, which officially opened its doors this fall (but really has been open since the spring), for all 25 years of her employment at UMass. “There are two sides to every story. To me that was written by a columnist not a reporter. How accountable is that person to report the truth?” says Berry.

Berry’s says that Mary Barry was asked to move from the Campus Center cafeteria to the Quinn Administration Building for her expertise at the newly implemented register system. When Barry expressed her displeasure with the move, Berry says he told her the move would not have to be permanent but only for a month or two. He continues that Barry’s desire to remain in a location close to her friends did not exceed that of the need for trained help in the Quinn cafeteria.

Of Barry’s pay decrease during her cancer treatment, the general manager, Mike Berry, says he was appointed to his current position this fall and was not made aware of her condition. He says that the chairs were not taken away until after Mary Barry’s decision to retire.

Sodexho’s exact policy regarding employee use of chairs remains unclear. When first asked about the details of the decision to remove the chairs, Berry said, “I don’t want to get into our policies in the school paper.”Sodexho spokeswoman Bonnie Gordon maintains that there is not a company policy on chairs. “Decisions like that are in the hands of the unit manager,” she said.

“If you go into a Wal-Mart, K-Mart…people don’t sit in chairs,” says Berry. “It was more of a safety issue than anything else.” Berry says that chairs are not conducive to business as they bring up concerns with employee mobility and customer safety. He pointed to a Campus Center worker who was furnished with a chair last week after a medical procedure as an example of such policy.

Berry says that upon hearing of the proposed move Barry was to return home and speak with her husband and then discuss her decision with Mike Berry the following day. Berry maintains that Barry had said that she and her husband had decided it was time for her to retire and at that time expressed little concern.

Berry asserts that any employee that has asked for a chair has been accommodated for. He maintains that modified duties including chairs are implemented for those with orders as such from a doctor and employees that require rest are allowed to sit when their services are not needed elsewhere. The allowance of employees to sit is assessed on a task and location centered basis. Berry says that it is not Sodexho but the school who decided against seating for employees in the Atrium Café.

Mary Barry’s version of the events leading to her resignation differ from Berry’s.

Barry says that she was never informed that her move to the Quinn Building was to train other employees on the new register system. She says that the new registers had been implemented in March and as such she was not very experienced with them and that the employees in Quinn knew how to use them.

Barry says that she was never told that the move would be temporary and immediately expressed her concerns to management having already worked there briefly and disliked it.

According to Barry, management was fully aware that she had cancer. “My immediate friends and my boss [former manager Mike Forcier] knew…They’re not paying someone and letting them leave fifteen minutes early every week without knowing why,” she said.

Barry says that at the August 31 pre-semester meeting that would mark her last days at UMB, employees were discouraged from excessive discussion with patrons. “They basically said that all we should say is ‘Good Morning’ and ‘Have a Nice Day’ and they didn’t want us to carry on conversation with the customers…I don’t think that they liked the familiarity that we had with the customers.”

Barry says she remains angry with the way she was treated and upset that she was robbed of spending her last years before retirement at a job she did well with people she loved. Despite this, Mary Barry has no plans to pursue any action against Sodexho.

“I don’t want nothing from these people,” she says. “Everything I say is the truth. I was furious then and I’m still furious now.”

Since Mary Barry’s exit, employee morale, according to some employees, has fallen. “It’s sad that she had to leave the way that she did,” said one Sodexho employee.

Mike Berry says he has not addressed Mary Barry’s retirement or the Boston Globe column with his employees. “We don’t get involved in that,” he says. “We get involved in putting food in the cafeterias…we don’t get involved in the rumor mill.”