After five months of deliberation from Tulane’s administration and with no clear end in sight, Sodexo and DTZ employees continue to be barred from taking the university shuttle – a critical resource to many workers.
The Tulane policy which previously allowed Sodexo and DTZ employees free access to the university’s shuttle system was suddenly revoked on Oct. 12 last semester, after a Sodexo employee was allegedly injured while riding the shuttle and threatened to sue the school. No evidence suggests that the suit was carried forward, and circumstances around this alleged injury remain entirely unclear.
“For confidential reasons, Tulane does not discuss injuries involving employees, students or third parties,” said Vice President of Risk Management Joyce Fred in an email interview. “Third-parties,” in this case, refers to workers at Sodexo and DTZ.
The university is currently looking into purchasing more expensive insurance policies that would allow contracted employees to ride the shuttle. After over three months, no timeline has been presented for when this might occur.
Since the policy change, many of these contracted employees have struggled to add on transportation costs with a paycheck between $8 and $15 per hour before taxes. Some now must travel long distances on New Orleans public transit, which can be unreliable and at times unsafe.
“I’ve spoken to a friend of mine, a Sodexo worker, who’s actually always working double shifts now because she has to save up to buy a car to be able to get to work,” said Abi Mbaye, a sophomore student activist for Students Organizing Against Racism (SOAR). “My purpose is to fight for these people, because they can’t really fight for themselves.”
Indeed, Sodexo employees cannot unionize or speak to the press without jeopardizing their job, which makes it near-impossible for them to advocate for their own rights. Mbaye said that one employee started circulating a petition to regain access to the shuttle but was quickly shut down by Sodexo management.
Tulane’s Black Student Union listed shuttle access as one of their demands in last November’s petition, which currently has over 1,400 signatures. They additionally demanded that Tulane grant Sodexo and DTZ workers tuition waivers and renegotiate with contractors to ensure that they are paid a fair living wage.
Sodexo, a multinational corporation which made around $17 billion last year alone, is unlikely to significantly raise salaries for wage workers any time soon. In 2009, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing Sodexo’s history of aggressively dismantling unions and disenfranchising their employees. Sodexo stripped health care coverage from 10,000 seasonal workers nationwide in 2014 by classifying them as “part-time.” After a year of uproar from workers and students, Sodexo reversed the policy last January.
In a report by TransAfrica in 2010 Tulane was specifically mentioned as an egregious case of human rights violations from Sodexo, citing former employee Joyce Bradley, who worked at Bruff commons for 40 years without ever getting a promotion or a raise past $10 an hour. Workers at Tulane went on strike in 2010 to demand better wages, to no avail.
“If Sodexo and DTZ workers were getting paid the wages that they needed, it wouldn’t be such an issue that [Tulane] would take away shuttles and transportation,” said President of SOAR Mykia Kidd. “All of these things are interconnected.”
When asked about the ongoing issue of transportation at Tulane’s recent town hall meeting, President Michael Fitts said that the problem was of concern to the administration. However, he also wished to clarify that while Sodexo and DTZ employees work on campus, they are not employees of Tulane.
“The intent of Tulane Shuttles is to provide transportation services for students and Tulane employees,” said Fred. “There has been no change in this.”
After multiple requests, management at DTZ and Sodexo both declined to be interviewed for this story.