by Cindy Pena
Pins reading “hands off our healthcare” decorated the uniforms of the UNITE HERE Local 217 Union members who work in Sodexo at the dining halls and cafes at Central Connecticut State University. Sodexo workers are on their second year of fighting for a fair contract with the billion-dollar company.
“The company (Sodexo) is trying to increase profits by cutting the benefits that we had all these years and we are just fighting to keep the benefits, not increase them, not decrease them, just keep them the same,” Sodexo worker Samantha Cedeno said.
After an unsuccessful attempt in their first year to reach a fair negotiation, the Sodexo employees switched their approach from solely pushing the company to do the right thing, to now broadening their support system and getting CCSU students and faculty to support their cause. So far, they have been accomplishing just that, according to Cedeno.
“So now our strategy is really to get the students and faculty involved because if the students and faculty push the university to support us, then we can have the support of the students, the faculty, and the university behind us and it’s not just us fighting by ourselves,” Cedeno said. “We had a meeting with the CHANGE group on campus and they have complete support with us. It’s been amazing the amount of support we have been getting from the students and the faculty as well because I have been emailing back and forth with the faculty on campus and their support has been great.”
Through petitions, protests and demonstrations around campus, they are hoping to raise awareness and inform the students and faculty about the issues they have been fighting to settle. Benefits like affordable health insurance, fair wages, and paid sick leave that Cedeno and others have had for 30 years, are all on the line.
“People have seen us do rallies, but not everyone knows the issues, not everyone knows why we are rallying and what we are fighting for,” Cedeno said. “So, our main goal, by these demonstrations, is to keep everybody aware of what the company is doing. They are trying to be very quiet about slowly taking our benefits away and we are trying our best to not let that happen.”
UNITED HERE Local 217 also consist of union members in seven other college campuses. Cedeno states that this fight is not only for employees working in the dining halls at CCSU, but also for those other employees in those seven campuses.
“A lot of people need to understand is that if we fall, there are other colleges that will fall with us,” Cedeno said. “Of course, I am fighting for myself and my family. Of course I am fighting for my son to keep his health insurance, but we are fighting for everybody else. It’s a bigger fight then just CCSU.”
Cedeno and others hope that by building a support system with CCSU students, faculty and the union members at CCSU and in the seven other colleges, they can ultimately reach a fair contract.