Connecting Catholic Social Teaching and Labor Relations on Campus
On November 17, UNITE HERE Local 23, the Catholic Labor Network, and student activists at Loyola New Orleans hosted a “Catholic Social Teach-In” attended by more than 100 students, faculty and dining hall workers. It was an opportunity for students and workers to connect and reflect on how labor should be treated at a Catholic university. The dining hall workers at Loyola’s Sodexo-operated cafeteria are seeking to join the union UNITE HERE.
Catholic Labor Network Executive Director Clayton Sinyai set the stage with a review of Catholic Social Teaching on labor and work from the time of Rerum Novarum to today, noting its witness in support of the right to organize in unions and the right of every worker to a living wage. But it was the dining hall workers whose testimony made the biggest impact. Cook Rob Johnson explained:
Hello, my name Is Rob Johnson I have been working for Sodexo at Loyola for one year in Simple Servings and I love my job and my coworkers. My role in simple servings is important, I cook to ensure that each student with a dietary restriction can be able to eat on campus. The students here are great and always have smiles on their faces and positive energy, I love the environment here.
By doing Simple Service I have built strong relationships with the students who I cook for every day. I make sure to talk to the students and check up on how they are doing and new things that they have going on. I’ve built strong relationships with students who have allergies, and I am invested in their growth and career. I’ll always be there for the students here because we are all a part of the same community.
I do not feel appreciated for the hard work that I do here. I sometimes have to work overtime to be able to pay for the things that I need. However, when I work overtime there is a bit of tension I feel because it takes away from the energy that it takes to do simple service during my regular shifts. I also feel the need to work overtime because we are understaffed, and I want students to be able to eat and the operation to run smoothly.
I want a union of Sodexo workers here at Loyola so that we can have more teamwork while working on this campus. I believe that with a union will make it so we all take pride in our work and stay in this community. I am asking the Loyola community to support the Sodexo workers the way that I support the Loyola community preparing safe and healthy meals.
Mr. Johnson and other workers who testified clearly love their work, but are burned out from working long hours at low wages, starting around $11/per hour – $22,000 per year for a full-time worker. Some mentioned working overtime to make rent even though the extra hours cut into time they would like to be with their families. Sodexo, which reported increased profitability in 2022, can do better than this.
Students and workers alike are waiting to see how the university administration responds. Many Catholic colleges and universities see labor relations on campus as part of their Catholic identity and expect contractors serving the campus community to honor Catholic social doctrine. Georgetown University in Washington DC has gone so far as to implement a Just Employment Policy that defines a living wage threshold, requiring contractors providing services to pay their workers accordingly.
The food service workers have been seeking to meet the university’s interim president to share their stories. So far he has refused to meet with the workers.