Sodexo sues SEIU over tactics to unionize workers

WASHINGTON, March 17 Thu Mar 17, 2011 6:42pm EDT

WASHINGTON, March 17 (Reuters) - The American unit of French catering giant Sodexo SA (EXHO.PA) on Thursday filed a civil racketeering lawsuit accusing the Service Employees International Union of engaging in illegal tactics in its efforts to unionize workers.

The company levied numerous charges accusing the union of threatening employees and to damage company property, engaging in illegal tactics to steer business away from Sodexo and attempting to publicly tarnish its reputation.

The lawsuit is the latest twist in a fight over a bid by SEIU to represent some of the 80,000 of Sodexo's hourly employees who are not union members, a multi-year efforts by the union. Some 18,000 hourly employees are union members.

"We work constructively with unions every day but the SEIU has crossed the line by breaking the law," Robert Stern, general counsel for Sodexo USA, said in a statement. "We will not tolerate the SEIU's tactics any longer."

The company filed the lawsuit in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, and asked for an injunction against SEIU, as well as unspecified monetary damages.

The SEIU has accused Sodexo of union bashing and poor working conditions for its employees.

Renee Asher, a spokeswoman for the union, said they had not been served with the lawsuit or notified of it and therefore had no immediate comment.

Last week, the SEIU said Sodexo agreed to settle a case that was pending before the U.S. National Labor Relations Board over a policy that barred workers from talking to the media about any subject.

The new policy only limits comments when the employees are speaking on behalf of the company, the union said. (Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky; editing by Andre Grenon)

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