Campus News

April 5, 2010

Emory position on labor organizing issue

Following is a University position statement from the president’s cabinet with regard to Sodexo/SEIU labor organizing issues at Emory.

As many members of the Emory community are aware, there is a labor organizing campaign in progress on Emory’s campus, involving one of Emory’s contractors, Sodexo, and its employees. The employees in question are not Emory employees, and Emory does not control the labor policies of its contractors. This organizing effort is a part of a campaign at many institutions, and is not solely directed towards the Sodexo employees at Emory.

Union organizing is a subject of extensive federal regulation. The National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) defines the rights of employees and employers, establishes the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), and sets up a detailed procedure for enforcing those rights and resolving disputes regarding union organizing.

Emory respects the rights of employees and the rules governing those rights, as set forth in the NLRA. This includes the right of employees to support union representation, as well as their right to refuse to support union representation. It is up to employees to decide whether to support a union. The decision, of course, does not rest with Emory leadership, faculty or staff.

The NLRB has 75 years of history addressing labor matters. It has delicately balanced the rights of employees and employers. It has ruled, for example, that free speech in certain cases allows employers, such as Sodexo, to address their employees at work on the subject of unions.  On the other hand, it has ruled that employers normally cannot visit employees in their homes regarding this subject, though union representatives are allowed to do so. It has also generally recognized the right to have the question of union representation decided by a secret ballot election among the affected employees.

During the current organizing efforts on our campus between Sodexo and the union, the Emory administration has received many comments and questions concerning this effort. Some comments have implied or suggested that Emory should take action to make it easier for a union to succeed, or that Emory somehow should take a part in decisions such as taking away the right of employees to vote by secret ballot on whether to have a union.

It is not appropriate for Emory to interfere in this matter one way or the other. The comprehensive labor laws that are in place can and should be followed to assure that employees’ and the employer’s rights are respected. In addition, many general assertions have been made publicly regarding alleged conduct such as unlawful harassment, intimidation and discrimination during the current campaign. Such conduct would of course be inappropriate. Sodexo has categorically denied these allegations. Some Emory students have requested that Emory establish a President’s Commission on the Status of Labor to examine these allegations. We do not believe such a step is necessary or appropriate. Emory has in place for its employees numerous policies and avenues to address alleged inequities. We are proud to have a strong Employee Relations team, an Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, and various Presidential Commissions on the status of women, racial and ethnic minorities, and LGBT members of our community.

In addition, we are proud of our Statement of Ethical Principles. We stand by these internal policies and entities that exist for the benefit of Emory employees. We also recognize the fact that Sodexo has its own Policy on Human Rights that describes the ethical principles followed by that company. Sodexo employees have separate avenues available to them if they have grievances they seek to have addressed, specifically Sodexo’s human resources department and the National Labor Relations Board.  These entities, not Emory, offer the appropriate forums for addressing such complaints.

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