Tensions brewing

ABI REIMOLD TTN Jesse Stein, an employee at the TECH Center’s Sodexo-operated Starbucks, said he can’t unionize, as non-students can, as per the company’s current contract.

A student took his concerns to Sodexo, which does not permit students in its union.

In September 2011, management at the TECH Center Starbucks began enforcing a policy prohibiting the tipping of baristas, due to policies put in place by Sodexo, Temple’s food-service provider that licenses the store. But one student insisted his tip be accepted, sparking his own exploration into Sodexo’s contract with students.

“I had stapled a dollar to a comment card, saying that I insisted they keep the dollar,” Adam McGuire, a senior social work major, said. “In addition to that, I asked what else Sodexo was doing to strip the rights of their workers.”

McGuire tried to find answers himself, writing letters to both Starbucks and the university, but said he received little information. He also contacted Sodexo, who promised meetings to discuss the issues.

“They were supposed to meet with me during winter break, but they kind of blew me off,” McGuire said. “When I got back from break they ignored me again, two weeks passed and they still didn’t get back to me.”

In an email, Sodexo General Manager David Tolbert wrote that he and District Manager Bryan Sparks had already spoken with McGuire and are available to speak with him again should he have any additional questions.

It is Starbucks’ company policy for workers to accept tips as a way to supplement their income. Employees at the popular coffee shops typically rely on tips from customers to compensate receiving an hourly pay below minimum wage. Sodexo pays at a higher rate than a typical Starbucks and has a policy in place that prohibits its employees from receiving tip money.

Sodexo has an existing contract with the Philadelphia Joint Board that requires Sodexo to recognize the Philadelphia Joint Board as the “sole and exclusive bargaining agent with respect to wages, hours, benefits and other employee related issues for full and part-time food service employees in all its dining service operations at Temple University.”

“Adam McGuire has presented himself as ‘representing and speaking for’ a portion of our student employees at Temple,” Tolbert said. “Under the law, this sets him up as a bargaining agent for those employees. [McGuire] has no affiliation with the Philadelphia Joint Board in any capacity, so in accordance with our contract we are not permitted to negotiate with him.”

McGuire also reached out to Mindy Segal, director of operations at the Student Center, who declined to comment on the situation between McGuire and Sodexo.

The TECH Center Starbucks does provide an alternative to tipping in the form of an incentive program that relies on customer feedback. Customers that have a positive experience are encouraged to fill out comment cards with the name of their server. Every week, one is chosen and the employee mentioned in the positive comment receives a bonus in their paycheck.

“They actually have not been following through with it as much,” Josh Snyder, a senior history major and employee at the TECH Center Starbucks, said. “I don’t think they implemented it just to be nice to us, it’s almost like a pacifier just to keep us quiet a bit.”

Another student worker informed McGuire about a discrepancy in wages between student and non-student workers.

Tolbert said the base rate for student workers is $8.75 per hour and increases by 25 cents each year they work.

He said non-student workers are hired at a rate of $10.65 an hour and increase incrementally until they are there for two years. After two years, the base rate for workers is $12.65 per hour, Tolbert said.

Student workers can’t work more than 25 hours a week, Tolbert added.

McGuire looked into the idea of unionizing the workers, but had found out that it was against Sodexo policy for them to join.

In the contract obtained by The Temple News, line seven of article one, union recognition of the contracted agreement, “specifically excluded from the bargaining unit are all students.” In addition to students, office clerical employees, professional employees and supervisors are excluded from the bargaining unit.

“I was just told that this was how it had always been,” McGuire said. “And that it really wasn’t any of my business.”

Jesse Stein, a sophomore anthropology major and employee at the TECH Center Starbucks, said he works at the coffee shop with his sister, whose hours were recently cut to 10 hours a week.

“She can’t do anything because she can’t be in the union,” Stein said. “So now she has to find another job to pay rent. It’s just like the student workers and the union workers, there’s a real difference.”

Stein said he currently works the maximum 25-hour week. If Sodexo allowed him to unionize, Stein said he would.

McGuire found that student workers are not on a contract between Sodexo and the university, set to expire in May.

“I don’t really understand the logic behind it,” Snyder said. “The fact that we are unable to join the union or be equal with the other workers is a little unfair.”

According to the contract, student employees are utilized as part-time employees.

Snyder also noted that he did not experience such hardships when he was employed at another Starbucks located in New York. He was allowed to join a union and the option of giving tips to workers was available.

Tolbert said that Sodexo has built positive, constructive and successful working relationships with more than 330 collective bargaining agreements with at least 30 labor unions that represent more than 15 percent of the employees. Tolbert said that this rate of unionization is more than twice the national average and consistent with the industry.

“The student workers are intimidated,” McGuire said. “For them to treat students like this, I can’t find reason for it.”

McGuire is confident that when his time ends at the university that Snyder and the other workers will be able to continue what he started, but did not rule out the idea of returning if he should be needed.

“The reason I thought I could change this, is that students have a significant stake here at Temple,” McGuire said. “I’ve invested a lot of time into this, but I was able to also learn a lot about myself.”

Dominique Johnson can be reached at dominique.johnson@temple.edu.


  1. What Sodexo is doing by utilizing students as part-time employees and preventing students from joining the union is comparable to the the practices of Wal-Mart. Sodexo is one of the largest food service companies in the world. I would venture to guess that this union business with student-workers is the same story with every other university in the country that Sodexo runs. They’re pimping out the students to maximize profits. If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve seen the tremendous traffic in the TECH Starbucks and the outrageous amount of $ that is made per day by Sodexo. I don’t think it would hurt Sodexo too much to pay the students a little more so they can pay their rent, do you?

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