For the second time in two weeks the Ohio State chapter of United Students Against Sweatshops, USAS, filled the lobby outside President E. Gordon Gee’s office in Bricker Hall.
But at this event, no one left in handcuffs.
About 50 protesters banged drums, shook soda bottles filled with popcorn kernels and chanted against OSU’s $10 million contract with Sodexo, Inc. on Thursday afternoon. The protesters have accused the French-based food and facilities management company of violating workers’ rights, including those of workers at OSU.
Thursday’s protest mirrored the rally on May 23 in almost every way. The group gathered between Sullivant Hall and the Wexner Center for the Arts before marching through the Oval into Bricker Hall to urge Gee to end the contract. The event on May 23, however, resulted in the arrest of nine protesters, including seven current OSU students after they refused to leave the building.
After about 10 minutes of chanting, Ryan Marchese, a fourth-year in international studies and president of USAS at OSU, informed the crowd that OSU police asked the group to “keep it down.”
The group complied but then submitted around 50 letters of “demands” to Gee, said Natalie Yoon, a second-year in international studies and Korean and secretary of USAS at OSU. The letters included two demands: kick out Sodexo and require the new contractor to respect workers’ rights.
Yoon encouraged personal messages to be added.
After leaving the letters with Gee’s secretary, the protesters quietly left the building and relocated to the Oval.
The OSU police department released a statement that said that no arrests were made during the protest, and police presence was there to ensure the protesters’ rights to free speech. The statement addressed a similar protest, on May 23, in which nine arrests were made.
“The order to leave was given by OSUPD officers since the protesters were occupying space that was previously reserved by another campus organization,” the OSU police department said in the statement. “This disregard of the police order resulted in a charge of trespassing.”
OSU officials issued a statement which said the university views this as a matter between Sodexo and Service Employee’s International Union, or SEIU. The statement also said OSU has met with USAS on a regular basis.
“The most recent meeting was held May 27 and two meetings were scheduled for this summer,” the statement read. “Yesterday, June 1, the students informed us they were no longer willing to continue the dialogue.”
USAS gained some support from the University Student Government. Travis Skaggs, a first-year in mathematics and USG senator, attended the rally and recently wrote a resolution asking OSU to scrutinize its contract with Sodexo.
The resolution passed the USG senate with all but one vote.
Last week, more than 80 faculty, staff and alumni wrote a letter to Gee saying they were concerned with the way OSU handled last week’s rally. They also requested that OSU re-evaluate its contract with Sodexo.
Monica Zimmer, public relations director for Sodexo responded with an email Thursday afternoon. The email said the company believes USAS was provoked by SEIU and “Sodexo continues to be recognized as a leader in the industry for creating a great place to work for our employees.”
Marchese said the campaign will continue until the university ends its contract with Sodexo.
“I’m confident we will win,” Marchese said.