Zag Dining employees love working for Gonzaga University, because you, the students and larger community, make it such a rewarding experience. 

However Sodexo, the corporation that GU contracts for Zag Dining purposes, treats its employees in unfair ways that undermine the university’s mission and ultimately harms the community. 

It’s important to note that Sodexo hires Spokane community members as well as GU students, and it tends to fail at upholding, as the Mission Statement says, “a mature commitment to the dignity of the human person” for either population. 

Thus, as someone raised in Spokane who then worked for Sodexo while attending GU, and continued to do so when my status as a student changed, I can speak to the inhumane shortcomings to both demographics of workers. 

I started my job with Sodexo five years ago, my sophomore year when I needed an income to afford tuition, textbooks, food and other college-related expenses. As a first-generation college student, my parents couldn’t help out much, and as a full-time student involved in multiple extracurricular activities, I needed a somewhat convenient job. Sodexo at the time presented a seemingly convenient option. 

Jump forward five years, after financial circumstances forced me to take a couple of semesters off to work and save, and I’m stuck wondering why in the hell Sodexo would remove me from the schedule a week before re-opening, after a global pandemic led the company to unexpectedly lay off hundreds of employees for several brutal months with little to no support.  

I understand that the entire country experienced this at the same time too. However, Sodexo handled the crisis in ways that did not promote “solidarity with the poor and vulnerable,” as the Mission Statement says.

For starters, when other campuses throughout the country began closing down, and Zag Dining employees expressed concern for our own campus, Sodexo told us we had no reason to worry. Sodexo assured us that it wasn’t planning for any disruption from the coronavirus, that we should all go back to business as normal. Some of us were even laughed at.  

As campuses in Washington began to close, and managers finally began to worry with us, they still had no plan. Not to mention that communication between the managers and employees was virtually nonexistent outside of promises that we would be taken care of. 

One employee was even lied to and told we would receive some kind of severance package — we got an extra $150 added to a single paycheck once when they finally laid us off, another laugh in our face. 

The events leading up to the pandemic are biannual occurrences that the virus only exacerbated. Every winter and summer vacation, Sodexo employees get laid off with limited options for working elsewhere. 

We would find another job, yet many of us work for Sodexo out of necessity, because it’s convenient for school or because job openings are limited in the Spokane community, especially if you don’t possess a degree. Besides, some can’t (or don’t want to) leave the GU community behind. 

These seasonal layoffs present a larger problem for employees who already receive an income that falls below a living wage. We then spend the working season trying to catch up on bills we accrued during the vacations. 

In fact, last spring (before the threat of the coronavirus), the baristas at The Hemmingson Center Starbucks began discussing our pay rate and found arbitrary discrepancies between them, such as not receiving the starting wage we each had been promised.

On several occasions when the higher-ups heard these conversations, we were told that discussing pay violated Sodexo’s policies. Thankfully, we knew this to be a legal right, and continued to do so until the problem was fixed.

Last spring, I meant to publish a letter similar to this one, but it did not meet some of The Bulletin’s requirements. I believe Sodexo found out, because the day after I submitted it they fixed the discrepancies between our payment at Starbucks. 

After this incident, human resources and management invited me to a couple of conversations about the issues outlined here, and there were promises that these conditions and the communication surrounding these conditions would improve. 

That was right before this pandemic, right before they re-hired all of my co-workers and completely ghosted me, like a Tinder date, only there was much more at stake than a potential partner or a good hook up: my livelihood was on the line. 

They did this to one of my co-workers in the fall, they’re doing it now with me, and who knows how many countless other times it’s occurred. 

The unpublished letter I mentioned also critiqued some of the more systemic problems within Sodexo, and those still need fixing. The issues experienced here at GU are played out in practices as a global entity too. 

They profit almost $1 billion off of the thousands who they underpay as well as the hundreds of private prisons and jails they serve. I wished I had been brave enough to publish the former letter last spring, but I needed the job then. Now, I’ve got nothing to lose but my complicity in carceral capitalism, that global system which prioritizes profit over people.   

GU, we’ve been failing a large part of our community for too long, and it’s time we do better and reclaim Zag Dining from Sodexo.


Christopher Barker is a former Gonzaga student.

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