PARIS (AP) — A group of U.S. employees at French food services giant Sodexo on Monday demanded workplace protections in North America similar to those their colleagues in France enjoy.

Their tactics were viewed with curiosity in France, where it is more common to see French labor unions pressing for more rights from big American employers.

Informally representing Sodexo's 110,000 employees in the United States, the 13 workers came to France to take their demands — including more respect for labor unions — to Sodexo's annual shareholders meeting outside Paris.

The group has the backing of well-known labor groups, including the Service Employees International Union and others in France and Britain.

Sodexo has nearly 380,000 employees in 80 countries working in hospitals, schools, military bases and the U.S. government.

"We respect the rights of workers and the right to unionize," Sodexo Chief Executive Michel Landel said at the shareholders meeting in the Paris suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux. He said the company has always had very good relations with unions and said Sodexo has been caught in a battle between rival unions in the United States.

At a news conference before the meeting, U.S. workers said they had a hard time raising families on their salaries and said Sodexo managers tried to discourage them from joining unions.

In another complaint, the U.S. group said the company must make more progress in recruiting black executives.

In 2005, Sodexo agreed to pay $80 million to settle a lawsuit brought by thousands of black employees in the United States who charged that they were routinely barred from promotions.

Landel said that since then the company has made great progress, ranking No. 6 on DiversityInc magazine's top 50 companies for diversity last year.