Major Union Bashes Sodexo, Gephardt Over Push For Renewal Of Wasteful Military Contract

June 17, 2010 12:06 p.m.

What do you do if you’re a union-hated company on the verge of losing a major controversial contract with the Marines? You hire former Rep. Dick Gephardt to lobby, in a last ditch effort to save hundreds of millions of dollars.

The contracting giant Sodexo has the rights to provide food services for all Marine mess halls in the United States. Those contracts are set to expire in September, but because of major cost overruns, food safety concerns, and other issues, there’s a push under way on the Hill and by the Services Employees International Union not to renew them.

To counter that push, according to SEIU, Sodexo has hired Gephardt, once a close ally of labor, to lobby the House Armed Services Committee on their behalf, to re-secure the contract.

Sodexo was not immediately available to respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Gephardt’s firm says “Gephardt Government Affairs is not working on a contract with the Marines on behalf of any client.”Sodexo won the contract, originally valued at $881 million, in 2001. But a few things have gone wrong since. In 2007, the company moved to shut down a major “cook-chill” facility in Tennessee, the central hub of their Marine service operation out of which the food was cooked, chilled and transported. The facility had been tagged with numerous health violations including rodent infestation and in June of that year, Sodexo had to recall 2,768 pounds of “ready-to-eat chicken products” that may have been contaminated with Listeria.

Records show that 69 cases of chicken products subject to the recall were sent to two west coast Marine facilities: Camp Pendleton and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

The shutdown was completed in 2008, eliminating one of Sodexo’s main sources of cost savings, and the cost of the contract has ballooned to $1.4 billion.

With so much money at stake, Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) has asked the Government Accountability Office to take a look at Sodexo’s stewardship of the Regional Garrison Food Service Contracts.

There’s a military readiness angle too. According to a 2007 Marine Corps report, contracting out domestic food services to Sodexo “had the adverse impact on Food Services Marines core competencies by significantly diminishing training opportunities and leaving Marines unprepared when required to operate mess halls overseas or in an operational environment.”

This post has been updated.

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