Instead of a contract, IC dining workers have broken promises
By Alyssa Figueroa
At the start of their employment, Ithaca College dining service workers are required to sign something that means nothing. After receiving and reading their “Sodexo Employee Handbook Addendum,” the workers sign the last page, which states that the handbook “is not a contract of employment, does not create any contractual commitment by the Company, and that the Company reserves the right in its discretion to modify or discontinue any of the provisions… or decide that they do not apply to a given case.”
This provision makes the wannabe-helpful handbook meaningless and has continuously allowed Sodexo to treat IC dining service workers unfairly.
For example, in the “Sick Leave” section of the handbook, it states, “Any employee absent for three or more consecutive days is required to produce a doctor’s release to return to work.” However, Dylan,* an IC dining service worker, said when sick for one day, the manager harassed Dylan and demanded that Dylan bring in a doctor’s note the next day.
Taylor,* another IC dining service worker, said that when some employees are sick, “managers call them and say, ‘you better make it in here or you’re going to get written up’… they don’t tell other workers to do that.”
Also, although personal days are permitted if “requested in writing five working days in advance … except for extreme cases subject to manager’s discretion,” Dylan, who had notified the manager more than five working days in advance of Dylan’s desired personal day, was not able to take off that day because the manager would not approve.
As for wages, the handbook states that some workers may start out making $7.95 an hour, though most start off making $8.45. Only a Service Supervisor and a Production Supervisor start making more than the hourly $11.11 living wage of Tompkins County, at $11.45 an hour.
In order to determine an employee’s raise each year, managers evaluate workers and are guided by the handbook to “link salary increases with performances.” What’s left out of the handbook are the details of salary raises. During the evaluation process, employees are scored in various categories—one being the best score and four being the worst. Alex,* another IC dining service worker, said that often instead of adhering to the evaluation form to determine raises, the managers use their personal discretion. Taylor said that because of this there have been workers who didn’t get a raise.
The highest salary raise for IC’s dining service workers is 4 percent. For someone making $8.45 an hour, that’s only a 34 cent raise if they receive a perfect evaluation.
According to Alex, who received all ones on the evaluation, a manager stated that “No one’s that good, no one could get all ones.” Alex then didn’t receive the promised salary raise.
Significant increases in income are gained so slowly that Taylor, who has been working in IC’s dining hall for around 10 years, is only making a bit less than $3 more hourly now than when Taylor started.
The handbook also states that “job classifications… are subject to change at any time,” which allows managers the ability to make workers do various jobs they were not hired to do. Although the handbook alludes to a higher temporary pay rate when taking on a harder position, it also states that it is not available to those who have “certain positions where greater responsibility is included in the position description.” Dylan said employees are told at orientation that they are to work their position and do “anything that’s asked of you.”
That means, according to the handbook, workers also have to be prepared for “unexpected [campus] events” that would “mandate additional unforeseen changes in your schedule” unless a worker had an “emergency or compelling reason for absence.” The handbook explains, “These are team efforts and we need support.”
This collaborative façade reaches its peak in the handbook’s statement: “Key to any organization’s success is the ability for every member of the staff to communicate freely and openly on any number of topics relative to the work environment.”
Unless “communicate freely” means it’s acceptable that managers call workers “idiots,” as three IC dining service workers have claimed they have, many managers and workers are not having a healthy dialogue.
Communication and relations between managers and employees can, and most likely will, continue to be unhealthy because of Sodexo’s policies. An employee handbook that doesn’t have to be enforced is useless for workers who want to feel a real sense of respect at work.
Only a contract can secure what workers like Taylor are craving: “We want to better ourselves. We want to make more money. We want to be treated fairly.”
*Names of workers have been changed.
Alyssa Figueroa is a sophomore journalism and politics major who created the group Students Support IC Dining Service Workers and wants justice served for dinner. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.