Sodexo Worker Janet Long: “I Felt So Sick…and Scared.”
by Brad Levinson
Janet Long is one missed payment away from losing her home. She is $10,000 in debt from her mother’s funeral. She has been sexually harassed and verbally abused at work. And on March 6th, Janet was fired from her job after standing up for her rights at work.
Janet worked for food service contracting company Sodexo for 8 years, most recently at the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) and at the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in downtown Columbus. She worked full time at OCLC and picked up extra hours at the museum whenever she could. She was well-liked by patrons of the cafeterias and she was often tasked with training new employees.
Despite working full-time for Sodexo, Janet barely took home enough money to pay the mortgage on her house every month. And, like many women who work for Sodexo, she experienced persistent sexual harassment.
For months, she was repeatedly harassed and groped by one of her coworkers. “The first time he did it, it was my first day at OCLC. He walked up to me and grabbed my breasts.” Janet begins to cry as she recounts the incident. “It was horrible. I felt so sick…and scared.”
From then on, her coworker regularly attempted to fondle her breasts and propositioned her at work. After she turned him down, he became threatening and verbally abusive towards her. Although she believes her Sodexo manager knew, Janet never officially reported her coworker. “Everyone knew,” she said. “He did it in front of people to humiliate me.”
Quitting her job and losing her home was not an option. Like many of her Sodexo coworkers, Janet believed that the only way she would have a shot at improving her job and winning respect at work was by forming a union.
In spite of everything Janet had to lose, Janet worked with her coworkers to form a union to make her workplace better. When Sodexo cut her hours, apparently in retaliation, Janet filed charges against Sodexo for violating her rights. Two days later, she was fired.
Janet has done nothing wrong. All she has done is stand up for herself and for her coworkers. She didn’t ask to be a martyr. “All I want is respect,” she said. But her courage is inspiring many of her Sodexo coworkers–most of whom are paid poverty wages and have no benefits–to stand up for their rights at work as well.