Orange County

Here’s why Orange County Convention Center food workers may strike as early as next week

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County Convention Center food service workers are days away from a potential strike.

The union representing the 230 workers says they need a pay bump in their next contract with Sodexo, which manages food service at the convention center, to keep up with the cost of living. They unanimously voted yes on Monday to approve a strike.


The strike could happen as early as Dec. 1, the day after their contract extension expires.

It would be the first tourism industry strike in more than 20 years.

Single mother Jackeline Ponce said she makes $13.40 an hour working in food services at the convention center, and even working doubles, she’s having a hard time covering her living expenses.

Read: Central Florida tourism workers push for higher pay to make ends meet

“I have to pay my bills, I have to pay my rent, I have to pay my gas. The gas now is very high and I’m struggling with that,” she said.

The president of Unite Here Local 737, Jeremy Haicken, said they’ve been in negotiations with Sodexo since August to try and improve things in their next contract. He said the union’s position is clear.

“We need a few things,” he said.

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They’re asking for an increase in wages and a pension for longtime workers. But so far Haicken said Sodexo hasn’t come to the table with any viable proposals.

“We are not going to announce when that strike will happen,” he said. “They’ll know when the meals stop going out to the guest and picket lines go up.”

Sodexo officials said they look forward to working to forge a path forward with the workers. They provided the following statement:

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“We respect the right of our employees to choose to be represented by a Union. This is proven by the hundreds of CBAs we have in good standing across the country. Our employees have, and have always had, the right under federal law to choose to be represented or not to be represented by a Union.

Taking a strike vote is a normal part of the CBA negotiations preparation process for Unite Here.

Accordingly, we continue to engage in good faith during ongoing CBA negotiations, in a sincere attempt to reach a fair and competitive set of long-term agreements in a timely manner. Bargaining sessions are scheduled in the weeks ahead, and we look forward to continuing to offer attractive wages and conditions, while ensuring labor competitivity for our clients and consumers.”

Read: Walt Disney World to raise ticket prices at theme parks

Channel 9 also reached out Orange County Convention Center for an interview on the issue on Monday but it declined our request.

Union workers said they still hope to bargain with Sodexo to avoid a strike and negotiations are scheduled for Dec. 13-14.

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Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson,

Sarah Wilson joined WFTV Channel 9 in 2018 as a digital producer after working as an award-winning newspaper reporter for nearly a decade in various communities across Central Florida.