Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Baker Slate Chairman Employed by Anti-Worker Company

The Chairman of Prince George’s County Executive candidate Rushern Baker’s slate is the Assistant General Counsel of one of North America’s most notorious anti-worker companies: Sodexo, Inc.

As the Washington Post originally reported, Rushern Baker took $206,000 in contributions from the “County 1 Now” slate and used a technicality to avoid disclosing its donors. Both this blog and the Gazette reported that the slate’s paperwork listed just one candidate at the time of its formation – Baker – and state law requires slates to have at least two candidates at all times. Baker’s spokesman claimed in the Gazette that the campaign was following “the letter of the law,” a statement that is contradicted by the State Board of Elections slate registration reproduced below.

All of the above has been known for over a week. Today, we disclose a fact that is sure to interest many in organized labor: the Chairman of Baker’s slate is a senior official with one of North America’s worst anti-worker companies, Sodexo Inc.

Kenneth Woolridge Johnson is a lawyer who lives in Springdale and has been the Assistant General Counsel of Sodexo (formerly known as Sodexho) since 1998.

Johnson has contributed $5,225 to Baker from 2000 through 2009. He has also contributed $500 to Barack Obama and $1,250 to the Democratic State Central Committee of Maryland in federal donations with which his employer is clearly marked.

Sodexo is a food services and facilities management contractor that is based in France. Its U.S. subsidiary is headquartered in Gaithersburg. The company works for a large number of schools, universities, government agencies, hospitals, retirement homes, military organizations, private companies and even jails. Sodexo is one of the largest companies of its kind and has operations all over the world. But inside the North American labor movement, it is known primarily for one thing: poor treatment of its workforce.

Any understanding of Sodexo’s labor practices must begin with its shameful record of discrimination. In 2001, its African-American managers filed a class-action lawsuit against the company alleging that it discriminated against them in promotions and segregated them in “black accounts” such as historically black universities. The case featured testimony that a Sodexo manager said, “African Americans were genetically inferior to whites, and genetically most of the criminals in the world were African Americans, and that they didn’t deserve promotion.” Sodexo’s Chief Operating Officer in North America “stated in sworn testimony that a white individual referring to black co-workers in the workplace using the ‘n-word’ was not necessarily offensive and could be meant as a ‘term of endearment.’” Sodexo paid $80 million to settle the case but did not learn its lesson. In 2006, Sodexo paid $61,000 to settle a sexual harassment case brought by the EEOC on behalf of a female custodian who was groped, propositioned and ultimately subjected to exposure by a male nurse. The custodian said management retaliated against her for objecting to the harassment. In 2007, the company paid $788,877 in back wages to settle a case brought by the U.S. Department of Labor alleging that it rejected 4,465 applicants – most of whom were African-Americans – for jobs on oil rigs and drilling platforms. Finally, the company paid $80,000 to settle another EEOC lawsuit alleging that it had discriminated against a pregnant Haitian worker who asked for alternative duty after suffering from pregnancy complications last year.

That is just the beginning. Sodexo pays some of its workers as little as $8.27 per hour. The company lost a contract at SUNY Albany in 2000 after refusing to recognize a union for over a year. In 2006, workers in Plattsburgh, New York claimed the company was “openly harassing pro-union workers.” Sodexo was caught paying tens of thousands of its workers in the United Kingdom less than the country’s minimum wage last year. In January 2010, the company refused to accept an employee petition at the University of Denver calling for better working standards and the right to form a union. Sodexo has had multiple problems with e.coli in its food. The company has a long record of hospital cleaning problems, food safety issues and unfair labor practices. The sheer volume of Sodexo’s controversies is so overwhelming that the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which is running a national campaign against the company, has established a website dedicated to chronicling its problems.

According to some of its employees, Sodexo’s labor practices are impacting its customers. Here are two Sodexo school cafeteria workers discussing management pressure on them to hurry food preparation for children.

And here is a Sodexo hospital food worker complaining of inadequate food supplied to patients.

As Sodexo’s Assistant General Counsel since 1998, Kenneth Johnson would have known about, and perhaps may even have represented the company in, many of the above legal issues. Interestingly, Rushern Baker accepted a $6,000 contribution – the maximum amount allowed by state law - from SEIU Local 1199 on 1/7/10. That was just two days after Baker made Johnson, a top official of one of the union’s national targets, the Chairman of his slate.