Food service disputes come to a boil

by and Nancy

Proposed changes in the University’s food services might satisfy hungry students, but two separate events on Monday illustrated that underlying controversies exist.
University administrators are looking for an alternative to their ailing Food Services operation, which includes vending, catering, dining and retail services. Two final proposals are on the table, and negotiations early next week will decide which outside vendor will provide its services on campus. But a resignation and a meeting on Monday revealed that there is not yet agreement on how the University should move forward.
The Food Services Evaluation Team, a committee that reviews the proposals for a new food vendor contract, lost its only food service employee representative when Sue Mauren, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 320 union, resigned.
“I made the contributions that I can make to the committee,” she said.
Although Mauren is not one of the eight voting members on the 18-person committee, her presence provided a voice for University union employees’ concerns with the fast-approaching negotiations. Union workers are worried that they might no longer be University employees and that their wages might be cut.
Mauren said now that discussions are coming to a close, her presence on the committee would constitute a conflict of interest with her position as an employee advocate. Mauren could not comment on what the proposals entailed, but said she was uncomfortable with them and is not sure that they serve the best interests of union employees.
“I couldn’t be on a team whose primary role was to decide what vendor to use when my constituents may believe that maybe a vendor contract might not be good at all,” she said.
Mauren isn’t the only evaluation team member that is concerned with both the negotiation process and the final results it might bring.
“I’m still not convinced that this is something that needs to happen, let alone choose between one or the other (vendor),” said Andre Viktora, president of the Coffman Memorial Union Board of Governors and a non-voting member of the evaluation team.
Viktora attended a student meeting on Monday with nearly 20 members from student organizations that reside in Coffman to discuss the effect outside vending could have on the union. The hour-long discussion was dominated by concerns that Coffman doesn’t have a voice in the discussions, and that it will receive no money from the vendors.
“There will be one person at the table from this University (making the negotiations),” said Eric Hanson, Minnesota Student Association vice president and meeting organizer.
Ron Campbell, associate vice president for Housing and Food Services, will be the lone negotiator next Monday for the 10-15 year food vendor’s contract.
Students on the Coffman Board of Governors said they plan to speak to Campbell this week during open forums to discuss the plans. Campbell will be available to answer questions at three open meetings today, Wednesday and Friday.