A total of 16 Sodexo employees who work for various dining services at Keene State College will lose their eligibility to health care provided by the company starting January 1, 2014, according to Sodexo’s spokesperson, Gregory Yost.
Sodexo is “redefining” what it considers to be a full-time employee in accordance with The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Affordable Care Act), as stated by Yost. To qualify as a full-time employee, one has to work an average 30 hours a week over the course of a 52-week timespan.
According to Yost, there are 170 Sodexo employees at KSC—46 of which will now classify as part-time rather than full-time. Forty-eight KSC Sodexo employees currently receive health care benefits from Sodexo, but soon, 16 will not.
The Equinox first learned about this from Sodexo employee, Gordon (Gordi) Davis, who passed away over Thanksgiving break. KSC Communication professor, Michael McCarthy, also spoke with Davis about the changes. According to McCarthy, Davis voiced his concerns of losing health care himself. “I don’t think the intentions of the Affordable Care Act was to take health insurance away,” McCarthy said.
Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs, Paul Striffolino, oversees the dining services provided at KSC. Striffolino made the point that technically, these workers are not KSC employees, but Sodexo employees and said he could not comment on their personnel practices.
“My experience in working with Sodexo and particularly this group of folks here, is that they do care about their employees and that they value their employees,” he said.
He explained that like most other companies across the nation, Sodexo is trying to comply with the Affordable Care Act.
Yost explained that Sodexo adopted the guidelines of the bill to avoid penalties. According to Yost, if a business does not meet the mandate requirements, the company would be “penalized per employee.”
These penalties, for example, could occur if a worker, “Were to fall through the cracks,” and Sodexo was, “not making insurance available to them when they qualified for it,” Yost stated.
Sodexo currently has 125,000 employees in the United States, according to Yost, so if the company “had people who were misclassified, that could become quite a significant penalty.”
McCarthy said most workers can’t meet the new requirements to be considered full-time.
He said most workers are laid off during breaks, “Especially during the summer break—when they lose almost three months of work,” he said, but mentioned that aside from some catering jobs between semesters, most employees are not working during college vacations.
Striffolino said the shortening of hours during breaks is common practice, as the school year is the busiest time of year.
Yost could not confirm the changes in hours at KSC over vacations at the time of the interview, but pointed out that nationwide, Sodexo caters for events such as summer camps that allow for employees to work.
However, “It’s certainly not to the extent or the amount that are during the regular school year,” he stated.
McCarthy said, “I’m not suggesting that the college or the president or anybody who works here [KSC] has the power to tell a private corporation what they can do with their employees.” What he did say, though, was that there may be a possibility of putting a halt to the changes until the contract between KSC and Sodexo is evaluated.
According to vtdigger.org, University of Vermont put a hold on Sodexo’s employment status alterations. The article reads that UVM’s president said the, “university’s 320 food service workers will see no change in their employment status ‘until further notice’ as UVM looks into the effect on workers’ health care benefits.”
Also stated in the article was the reasoning given for the hold, including, “A very tight time frame from the date of notification for employees to consider health care options,” as well as “Uncertainties regarding how soon current health care implementation problems will be resolved.”
An article on digital.vpr.net, Vermont’s NPR news source, read that, “According to a copy of the contract between UVM and Sodexo, ‘Sodexo [sic] shall not, without University’s prior approval, make any substantial changes in wages, fringe benefits or working conditions of non-management Food Service employees,’ unless required by law.”
According to both articles, administration has not made a final decision as to whether or not the change is allowed.
McCarthy expressed his discomfort with the situation and said, “It’s surprising to me that no one has taken notice of this. I think there are plenty of people on campus who, once they’re aware of it, would be concerned and would want to see the issue addressed, and hopefully some action taken if it’s at all possible given the wording of the contract we have with Sodexo.”
Neither McCarthy, Striffolino, nor Yost could clarify what the contract between Keene State and Sodexo said. Director of Campus Purchasing and Contract Service at KSC, James Draper, could not commit to an interview regarding the contract as of press time.
Yost pointed out that Sodexo is, “Waiting for the final approval of the guidelines,” and stated he is committed to helping workers throughout the transition by meeting regularly with the company’s employees.
Still, McCarthy said, “If we’re an all-inclusive community, then we have to look at how every single person on this campus is being treated, whether they work directly for the university system or whether they work for one of the contractors who provide services to the college.”
Brittany Ballantyne can be contacted at email@example.com