For immediate release
November 21, 2022
As meetings rebound, workers warn of looming labor disputes over stagnant wages and poor working conditions
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Sodexo convention center workers in five major markets for meetings and group travel – Orlando, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Sacramento, and Detroit – today warned of possible strikes in Las Vegas and Orlando and labor disputes elsewhere over low wages and working conditions. Cooks, dishwashers, banquet servers, concession cashiers, and other Sodexo workers at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando announced that they have voted to authorize a strike by 100 percent. Centerplate workers at the Las Vegas Convention Center will hold a strike vote on December 7 and 8. Centerplate was purchased by Sodexo in 2017. All are represented by the hospitality workers’ union UNITE HERE.
Sodexo, which operates catering at all five convention centers, reported a “strong increase in revenues and profitability in Fiscal 2022.” Meeting levels in 2023 and 2024 are expected to surpass those from 2019, according to a forecast by Knowland. Yet Sodexo food service workers at convention centers say their jobs aren’t enough to keep up with the cost of living.
“I support a strike because I need more money in my pocket to pay my bills when the cost of life has gone up so much. I struggle with food, rent, and gas with the money I make. I make $13.60 and our convention center is one of the biggest in the country. My coworkers and I are ready to do what it takes to win the contract we need,” said Jackeline Ponce, a Sodexo retail worker at the Orange County Convention Center.
The average hourly wage of Sodexo convention workers at the Orange County Convention Center, Las Vegas Convention Center, New Orleans Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Huntington Place, and SAFE Credit Union Convention Center in February 2020 was $11.77 and had only increased 5.7% to $12.44 by August 2022; the national seasonally-adjusted inflation between those dates was 14.1%. Of the 154 out of 449 Sodexo convention workers surveyed by UNITE HERE at the Detroit, Sacramento, and Las Vegas convention centers, 84% reported having trouble covering at least one expense – rent or mortgage, food, utilities, transportation, healthcare, childcare – in the past year; of those, 71% reported having trouble covering more than one expense.
“I’m voting to strike because we are the ones that make the Convention Center successful, and we want to get a fair share of that success,” said Dylan Schoenhard, banquet porter for Sodexo at Las Vegas Convention Center. “We have been busy at the Convention Center, with big shows like SEMA. But we need higher pay because everything is so much more expensive now, especially with rent and housing. We don’t want to be treated like second-class workers.”
In addition to low wages, Sodexo convention center workers report they’re doing more work with less help. Between February 2020 and August 2022, all five convention centers saw a reduction of Sodexo’s workforce by 38%. Several departments across the convention centers saw massive decreases in jobs: 53% of kitchen jobs, 50% of bar jobs, and 47% of quick service jobs were lost. Black workers were more likely not to keep their jobs than white workers: 57% of black workers did not keep their jobs, compared to 51% of white workers.
UNITE HERE International President D. Taylor: “The industry is saying 2023 will be a good year for them, and the workers who make meetings and events possible deserve to share in that recovery. But instead, Sodexo is using pandemic job eliminations as an opportunity to keep down labor costs and boost their profits. Strikes at the country’s second and third largest convention centers are a real possibility if Sodexo doesn’t start treating workers with the respect they deserve.”
UNITE HERE is in active bargaining with Sodexo in Orlando (UNITE HERE Local 737) and Las Vegas (Culinary Workers Union Local 226), and is awaiting bargaining in New Orleans (UNITE HERE Local 23), Sacramento (UNITE HERE Local 49), and Detroit (UNITE HERE Local 24). The bargaining units and disputes at each convention center are distinct, but key issues include wage increases, affordable health care, secure retirement, and fair scheduling.
UNITE HERE is the hospitality workers’ union in the U.S. and Canada, representing over 300,000 workers in hotels, gaming, food service, airports, and more.