June 13, 2014
By Neal Tepel
Washington, DC – Dozens of employees of Sodexo, a giant, foreign-owned corporate food service provider, are protesting a loophole in the Affordable Care Act. The workers, along with members of UNITE HERE, are releasing a letter that calls on policymakers to close this loophole to prevent similar actions by other employers.
Against the backdrop of the US Capitol building, Sodexo workers from Massachusetts, Indiana, Rhode Island and Washington D.C. are speaking out and delivering their demands to the IRS, one of the primary regulatory bodies that has the power to close the loophole. Workers are also reaching out to their Congressional representatives, launching a national effort to get Congress focused on closing the loophole.
Sodexo began to exploit this loophole in January, when the company re-classified 10,000 of its full-time employees as part-time by changing the way it calculates full-time status. Blaming Obamacare, Sodexo now says school year workers have to average more than 30 hours a week on a 52-week calendar in order to qualify for benefits like healthcare and sick days—even though many don't work year-round. As a result, 4,000 of these workers have been cut off from access to their existing health plans, in addition to losing paid sick leave and vacation pay. Though Obamacare does not mandate such cuts, nothing in the law prevents employers like Sodexo from changing the way it calculates full-time status, cutting off health benefits, and avoiding penalties under the law.
"Teachers aren't part time, and neither are we. This is a major blow to those of us who have made our careers in food service," said Chuck Long, a Sodexo worker at Curry College in Milton, Massachusetts. "If Sodexo is allowed to do this who else will follow suit?"
Under regulations issued by the IRS in February to prevent this same change from happening to teachers, educational institutions themselves are not allowed to include the summer months when calculating full-time status. However, the rule has not been applied to their service contractors like Sodexo – even though these workers also work on an academic calendar.
Workers say a fix may be already on the way on one campus. "On Monday, Earlham College announced that Sodexo would fix its way of determining full-time status for its food service workers at Earlham, changing it to one based on the academic year rather than the calendar year," says Liz Helton, a cafeteria worker at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana who has been outspoken on the issue. "Whatever the outcome for us, there are still thousands of Sodexo workers at different schools where the Sodexo loophole needs to be closed. A company-wide policy concerning ACA requires a national response."