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Full time jobs but no food on the table

 Street Speech (USA) 24 January 2019

Behind the scenes at the Ohio State University football concession stands, Sodexo workers run the show. They do the set up, take down, stocking and food preparation for all of the OSU football games, as well as other events. But when these workers go home, many cannot afford to keep the lights on and feed their families. They work full time, but cannot afford healthcare, are saddled with debt, and live in crime-ridden neighbourhoods. (1321 Words) - By Laura Tompkins

Street_Speech_Sodexo_ 1

Marcia tells her story. Photo courtesy of Street Speech.

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Three generations in one family work for Sodexo, and they led a "Poverty Tour" of their neighborhoods in Hilltop and Franklinton on October 13th.

Katie Snell, 19, leads the tour.  Katie's sister, mother, and grandmother, who is 85, also work for Sodexo, as did her grandfather until a month before his death at 87 years old.

She reports that her boss at Sodexo has been sexually harassing her since she was 16.  Katie and her sister, who also works for Sodexo, sometimes had to skip high school when they were called into work.  Katie is taking college classes, and hopes to transfer to OSU.

Katie takes us past her mother's house where she lives with five other relatives, and her mother, Marcia, tells her story.

Marcia has been working for Sodexo for 11 years, and has suffered two heart attacks during that time.  The heart medicine that she is supposed to take is too expensive for her to afford at over $100 per month.  Though she now qualifies for company health benefits, she still can't afford them.  She says, "The plan is so expensive, and the deductible is so high, it's like not having insurance."  For six years, she did not receive a raise.  Only last year after she started to organize for a union was she given full time status - before then she was only considered a seasonal employee, though she reports that during that time she worked 40-60 hour weeks throughout the year.

Katie's sister Amy also works at Sodexo.  She says abandoned houses are everywhere in her neighborhood of Franklinton, along with crime and drugs.

"Low wage service jobs continue a cycle of poverty," says Amy.

"Not having enough money to pay the bills drives people to do things that they don't want to do, and to resort to drugs and crime.  We see these things every day, and we can't afford to move out of them." Though Amy has one of the better paying jobs at Sodexo, at $12.87 an hour, she is barely able to pay the bills.  She says she often ends up feeding her neighbors' children as well, otherwise they may not eat at all.

Most of the workers rely on food banks to feed their families. Most people accessing food banks have jobs.

The family and their coworkers showed us what millions of Americans are experiencing - working full time hours and still living in poverty - not making enough money to support themselves and their families.

In 2009 the poverty rate in Ohio jumped to 15.2%, up from 10.6% in 1999.

In real terms, this means that more and more people are unable to pay rent, utility bills, or buy food, gas, or clothes.  It means that people are not getting their basic needs met.  More people are moving in with friends and families, sleeping in couches or in crowded motel rooms.  Those who aren't experiencing it may not see it.  Others see it every day.

Sandy Dailey had two heart attacks on the job, one after she was instructed to lift boxes that were too heavy for her.  She explained that she would lift the boxes because she was afraid of being not scheduled to work, and not be able to afford to take care of her boyfriend, who has multiple sclerosis.  On $9 an hour, Sandy, like Marcia, cannot afford health benefits.  She has a serious heart condition, but hasn't seen a doctor in three years.

We drove to Sandy's house in Franklinton.  As we got off the bus and stepped out into the paved lot in front of her small alley house, the leaves were starting to turn and there was a breeze moving through them.  We listened to her story.

"I've worked at Sodexo for 10 years.  My son was shot here on July 4th, 2005."

Sandy told us how her son was shot by armed robbers, and died of complications.  She says tried to move out, but cries as she explains that this was the only place she could afford to live.

"We need living wages, to do something about these low wage service jobs, so people don't have to live in fear."

As we drive through the blighted neighborhoods, we pass by pay day lenders.

Wayne, a Vietnam veteran, tells of how he started using payday lenders when he couldn't pay his house bill while working for Sodexo.  After he borrowed money he got sick, missed a week of work, and could not afford to pay the money back, and spent five years in a vicious cycle of debt with the payday lenders.  After five years with Sodexo, he only makes $7.35.  That is only $160 per week, and $60 of that he spends on transportation to get to and from work - leaving him with a little over three dollars per hour.

State representative Dan Stewart joined the tour.  We drove to the site of the old GM plant, and he explained how it became Delphi in 1999, and was shut down in 2007.  The plant had provided jobs for many in the community.  "What we're left with is jobs that don't pay living wages."  He spoke of how low paying service jobs are ultimately detrimental to the entire economy.
"People working at Wal-Mart can't afford to buy a new car," he said.

Katie reports that 96% of new job growth through 2018 will be in the service sector.

"Soon all of America will look like Hilltop," she says.

On October 12, Sodexo workers walked off the job before a football game in response to company retaliation for forming a union.  "We didn't want to shut things down," says Amy.  "We just wanted to take a stand."  Sodexo is a company with food service operations on college campuses throughout the United States. Their workers are organizing across the country according to Laurie Couch, a spokeswoman from the Service Employees International Union.

Because OSU contracts Sodexo, the support of the university for the union drive would greatly aid the workers' cause. So far, President Gordon Gee has declined involvement. "This is not our fight," said Gee in an Oct. 6 article in The Lantern, "It's between Sodexo and the union."

The workers say that Sodexo retaliates against workers for their union activity by cutting their hours, and that if Sodexo isn't forced to do what's right, they won't.

"There are a lot of people who want the union but they're scared to fight.  I know a woman who doesn't have any utilities, but she's too scared to say anything because she really needs her next paycheck," says Marcia.

"I told my coworkers, don't worry, I'll fight for you, because they're too scared," she says.

"People need jobs that they can feed their families with," says Katie.  "We want to have a part in making good jobs not just for ourselves but for our community.  I choose to fight for good jobs for those that come after me."

Originally published by Street Speech ©

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