New addition to our community: Sodexo maintenance and facility employees

Sodexo employees working in Stu cafeteria.
Sodexo employees working in Stu cafeteria.
Photo by Courtesy of @lfacademy

Lake Forest Academy has entered into this new year with a major change— the end of the maintenance and facility partnerships with Sodexo. Sodexo has been working with LFA for many years and has been the backbone to our school’s processes. The meals, the cleanliness of our campus and dorms, as well as the construction work to improve our facilities are all provided by Sodexo. While the food services at LFA will continue to be carried out through Sodexo, the maintenance and facilities will no longer be funneled through the company. Instead, LFA offered each of these Sodexo employees the opportunity to join the Caxy community. Although some chose to find employment elsewhere, the majority of them decided to become LFA employees, which has brought with much excitement. 

Mike Reidy, LFA’s Chief Financial Officer, stated, “We have been with them on the facility side for more than 20 years. The current contract was a 12-year contract that was set to expire June 30th of this year. So, we’ve been analyzing for quite some time and felt like we could save by taking the whole maintenance and housekeeping process internal. Almost everyone who had been with Sodexo are now employed by LFA.”

Once LFA had examined how this change would affect campus, they realized that the service would remain the same and could even improve with the employees shifting over to LFA. Since the service aspect would not change, they looked into the economics of the decision and realized that LFA would be able to save more money for other school projects while continuing with the same service and employees. 

Reidy spoke about using those savings, saying, “I think one of the focuses that we have and the board has is that a lot of the buildings are old and require some further maintenance and renovations in the upcoming years. I think some of the money is going to be put there, but that’s kind of a year-by-year decision. The decision to save some money is universal; we’ll always operate economically efficient. If we don’t, we won’t be able to compete with the rest of the good schools out there and maintain ourselves as one of the best.” 

When it came to the decision of whether or not the food services would remain Sodexo or not, Reidy found it to be a difficult situation. He explained, “We don’t see the same potential economic benefit there. A big part of the cost structure of food service operations is the cost of food. Sodexo does have buying power that is well beyond ours. Economically, it wasn’t a big motivator.” Food service is also one of Sodexo’s specialties, which LFA most likely wouldn’t be able to provide as well as Sodexo does, hence the reason why LFA did not take on Sodexo’s food service sector. 

While those in food service work remain under Sodexo, the maintenance and facility employees are now facing many positive benefits by being employed under LFA. Reidy continued on to detail the benefits, saying, “Another big factor was our ability to improve the working lives or, at least, the compensation of all of the Sodexo people who are working here at the academy. Pay-wise, we’re going to pay similar to what Sodexo was paying them, but benefit-wise, our benefits are much better. So, we were able to kind of make it a win-win proposition. We probably save a little bit of money, and the employees get better benefits. Our retirement plan is better than 95% of the companies out there, so everybody wins.” 

Kristin Paisley, Director of Human Resources & Risk Management at LFA, highlighted the academy’s care for its employees. She said, “Our healthcare and retirement plans are both very generous. We also pay for tuition for anyone wanting to go back to school as well–up to 80% upfront. We also can reimburse up to 20% after they have finished the program, so that applies to anyone, whether they’re finishing their bachelor’s degree or grad school, which is great.” These ex-Sodexo employees would get all of these benefits of health care, retirement, education programs, along with the opportunity for tuition remission if their children attend.  

Knowing that the 12-year contract with Sodexo was coming to an end in June, Reidy conversed with the managers of the Sodexo teams near the close of 2023, informing them about the change so that they could give the initial word to the workers. In addition, Head of School Chris Tennyson wrote a letter to each of them, both in English and Spanish, emphasizing that they are more than welcome to join the LFA community. Reidy further elaborated that he and Paisley expected people to have many questions, mainly in regards to the transition and benefits; he explicitly stated, “We were completely transparent to them… Mrs. Paisley answered about a thousand questions about our benefits. They were here for the whole month of December.” To give Sodexo workers more support, Paisley claimed that she held an orientation and has been “hand-holding them throughout the process” to make sure they were comfortable and had everything they needed. On top of that, due to language barriers, there were translators, like Paisley, Human Resources and Finance Office Manager Areli Aquino-Bueno, and Payroll and Benefits Coordinator Blanca Berlanga, who were all available to help.

With all of the great opportunities of becoming a part of LFA’s community, many ex-Sodexo employees are very excited to transition their jobs over, even if they are the same in terms of work. Whether it may be the better benefits workers are able to obtain or the promotions some are offered, many, including LFA’s maintenance supervisor, Mark Worswick, are overall content with their decision to become an LFA employee. Worswick shared some of his peers’ reactions to their adjustment, saying, “I’ve had nothing but compliments. All of the grounds guys were Sodexo prior to this, and I have had multiple employees from that team say that just the morale here has gone up so much since we’ve taken over. Overall, LFA is treating the employees and giving them more than they were with Sodexo.” This decision that LFA made going into this new year has seemed to bring many positive changes to our community as a whole. Worswick summed this all up in the best way possible, “I think everyone and everything is happier.”

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Emma Swanson, Managing Editor of Social Justice
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