Student activists organized a march through campus Monday demanding better treatment of Northwestern workers after Sodexo temporarily suspended a 10-year employee who said he was accused of being “under the influence” and “over excited” during his shift.
About 40 individuals walked down Sheridan Road from The Arch to Sargent Hall chanting “we support our workers” and other phrases behind Rafael Marquez, a food service worker in 1835 Hinman dining hall, who was put on temporary suspension last Friday.
The march was planned in an effort to support Marquez and other workers. Marquez said that after standing up for another worker being mistreated for supposed poor performance, Sodexo management demanded Marquez leave and subsequently put him on temporary suspension. He works as a union steward, a job requiring several months of training and the responsibility to defend other workers’ rights. He said that at the time of the incident, he was fulfilling this requirement.
“I’m not the kind of person that would compromise my duty as a union steward and union representative,” Marquez said. “I will not compromise my voice or my worker’s voice and rights as they are denying me the right as a steward to voice the concerns and the rights of our workers.”
Marquez was required to turn in a statement to Human Resources by 5 p.m. Monday, which will determine whether his suspension will become a permanent layoff. He said that along with his personal statement, his package included pieces from students and coworkers. He added he will find out by Friday what his standing is.
“In my statement I’m going to state nothing but the truth,” Marquez said during the event. “That’s all that needs to be told.”
He said that after telling students about his situation, they immediately rallied behind him to organize the march, noting he has built relationships with students through his years of working at NU.
“When I told them about what happened, they helped me organize this rally via Facebook and via word of mouth and every other way of communication to walk with me, side by side, to hand in the statements to let Sodexo know that I’m a part of the community, and the students as well as the workers in the unions will not tolerate injustice,” he said.
In response to the march, Sodexo marketing manager Jason Sophian said the mission of the Sodexo is to “improve the quality of life for all of those that work with us and for the Northwestern community.” He said Marquez’s case is still under review, but added, “Sodexo is committed to the fair and just treatment” of their employees.
However, many who attended the event believe Marquez was treated unfairly. Before the march, he gave a short speech explaining his situation and continually thanking students for their constant support.
During the speech, he noted several employees are overworked and the labor is not fairly distributed. He said his requests that workers be treated more fairly resulted in an employee meeting ending early and threats of being escorted by University Police unless he “stopped talking.” He said later that day, he was approached by managers and asked to explain the situation to human resources representatives, after which he was ultimately told he needed to leave because of his behavior.
Marquez said that after working a full day following the incident, Sodexo representatives said on Friday he was “suspended pending investigation” without pay. He added that as a single father with two children, unemployment would be detrimental to him and his family.
“The company is try to get rid of the leaders and committee members by any means,” Marquez said. “It was an unjust action by them.”
Marquez said Sodexo had eliminated positions and failed to replace them in the past, making it difficult for the remaining worker’s to meet the expected standards because of an increased workload. He added he was not the only worker being treated in this way.
Students who attended said they supported Marquez and marched because it was an important cause that needs to be addressed. Medill sophomore Lizet Alba said her parents work blue-collar jobs and her father is a union member. She said this allows her to understand the importance of being able to defend one’s rights.
“If you speak up for another person you shouldn’t be penalized in any way shape or form,” Alba said. “It’s not ‘One Northwestern’ if we don’t all support everyone, including those people that serve us everyday.”