Sodexo, Inc., one of the largest food service and facility management companies in the United States, is accusing the Service Employees International Union of orchestrating a massive extortion scheme in order to unionize the corporation’s 80,000 non-unionized employees. The SEIU is fighting back, claiming the lawsuit is a smokescreen to draw attention away from Sodexo’s anti-union activities.
In a complaint filed yesterday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Sodexo – a domestic subsidiary of French multi-national corporation Sodexo S.A. – is suing the SEIU and affiliated labor organizations under federal racketeering laws.
“This case is not about traditional union organizing. It is about a group of powerful labor organizations that have abandoned the traditional legal framework for organizing employees into unions, in favor of old-fashioned, strongarm tactics to get what they want,” the company argues in the complaint.
Sodexo is being represented by Gregory Robertson of Hunton & Williams, which recently came under public scrutiny following the release of private e-mails that detail the firm’s intent to profit from investigating anti-corporate entities, such as Wikileaks. Robertson could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
The corporation, in the 130-page complaint, outlines a series of negative public campaigns launched by the labor groups and private conversations with labor organizers that Sodexo believes show a pattern of deliberate harassment and intimidation. The alleged incidents rise to the level of racketeering and extortion, the corporation argues, because the labor groups were threatening Sodexo with financial ruin in order to boost membership – and, as a result, revenues – by having exclusive domain to recruit from Sodexo’s 80,000 non-union employees.
The complaint identifies the union’s corporate campaign, “Clean Up Sodexo,” as separate from a traditional labor organizing push, since the former targets corporate management and the latter is aimed at workers. Sodexo claims that the union is focusing its efforts on the corporate campaign to convince Sodexo leadership to bypass the traditional steps to unionizing workers.
But in a written statement, the SEIU calls the suit “bogus,” denying that it has pursued campaigns against Sodexo in order to lay claim to Sodexo’s non-unionzed employees.
“The suit filed by French company Sodexo is bogus litigation meant to deprive workers of the right to bargain collectively with their employers and undermines the middle class in the United States. It is not about which union represents Sodexo workers, but about whether Sodexo workers can bargain collectively at all,” the labor group said in a press release.