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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Workers, students speak out against Meriwether Godsey practices

Last year, Debbie Grogan received the Dick Dyer Staff Hearts and Hands Award. Earlier this semester, many people were shocked and confused when Meriwether Godsey fired her. Now, students, workers and former employees are speaking out against what they consider to be a pattern of abuses, arguing that problems with the company run much deeper. Employees’ complaints encompass a variety of issues, ranging from what they claim to be insulting eight-cent pay raises to racial discrimination. The most common complaints are overworking, a complete lack of job security, and a problem with the work environment created by management.

“Slave days are back at Guilford College,” said one employee in a telephone interview. “The atmosphere is so tense in there.”

Current employees who were interviewed declined to speak freely on record for fear of being identified and losing their jobs for speaking out. Former employees who feel they were wrongfully terminated were more willing to share their frustrations and anger.

“I think I sold my soul to the devil for a few more dollars an hour,” said former employee James Crump, referring to the promised pay raises when Meriwether Godsey’s contract was negotiated.

The prospect of unexpectedly losing a job is arguably the most troublesome aspect of the issues with Meriwether Godsey. Watching beloved employees like Barbara Pinnix and Debbie Grogan lose their jobs in the last year seems to have caused the most outrage amongst workers and students alike.

In this economy, especially for older workers and longer-term employees, losing a job can be a crippling and devastating blow.

“I have been out every day out looking for jobs, going to Goodwill, looking on the computer. I am really in a bad, bad situation,” said Grogan.

Ms. Debbie’s Story

Grogan was fired earlier this semester. While Meriwether Godsey cannot and will not talk about it, other people are.

“I was surprised,” said Jonathan Varnell, who manages Guilford’s account with Meriwether Godsey. “Nobody, legally, can say a word. You have no idea and

– Hide quoted text –

there’s no way you’re going to really find out.”

“We miss Debbie too. She’s a very happy, cheerful, wonderful person,” said Meriwether Godsey’s Director of Human Relations Celia Lloyd.

Though Meriwether Godsey cannot discuss specific cases, Director of Business Development & Client Relations Leslie Phillips explained how they make the decision to let an employee go.

“You do need another, more neutral pair of eyes,” Phillips said about why corporate is involved in the decision. “We do that to make sure that the decisions aren’t made out of pure frustration (of onsite management).”

The perception amongst students and workers seems to be that Grogan was fired for failing to come to work the weekend of a massive snowstorm, even though school had been canceled the Friday before. She confirmed this story, citing the reason management gave when they called her in and fired her.

It is unclear exactly what, if anything, preceded this incident as far as the company is concerned, but Grogan feels management decided they didn’t like her and never looked back.

“They were just looking for a reason to fire me,” she said. “I didn’t ask for it to snow, that’s God-given.”

Grogan lives 30 minutes from campus and doesn’t have four-wheel drive. She called to say she wouldn’t be able to make it to work due to the weather. When she came into work later in the week, she woke up at 4 a.m. to arrive on time, worked through breakfast and part of lunch, and then was called in by management.

According to Grogan, management said other workers had been able to get to work earlier in the week despite the weather, and that her absence was unacceptable. Privately, they cited this as the reason for firing her.

“When Ms. Debbie is fired, it throws all of these people’s jobs that we care about into question,” said senior Laura Herman.

Firing Sodexho Workers?

Though it is difficult to determine exactly how many former Sodexho employees maintained their jobs, some argue the number is roughly 12 out of 40.

“We see it as a weeding out of Sodexho employees,” Herman told Varnell in a meeting on Feb. 23.

Older employees, who worked under Sodexho, said they felt singled out by management. Crump listed a number of employees, including himself, who he feels were targeted and fired because they are older and worked for Sodexho.

“Nobody is targeting Sodexho employees . . . it’s based on performance,” said Lloyd. “The turnover rate for employees who have been hired since we came in is higher.”

One theory students have suggested is that the company is bringing in younger, inexperienced workers – many of them student employees – intentionally. They suggest this tactic makes sense as a way to cut down on the cost of paying employees. When mentioned to some workers, they said they believed this theory was true.

No Talking Allowed

Multiple workers reported that while there was no official policy against talking with students, they were reprimanded for developing friendly relationships with people dining in the cafeteria.

“It was like we were in prison. You didn’t feel like you could talk,” Crump said.

Students have observed management stopping employees from talking with students, which some say creates a negative dining environment as well as poor working conditions. Varnell said he was unaware of any such policy, but would look into it.

“If they see you talking they’ll come over and yell at you,” said a student employee.

Meriwether Godsey denied these allegations.

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