Vendor search concerns continue

by Nancy Ngo

Students and food service employees question whether their voices are being heard in the University’s search for a food service partner.
A public forum, held on Tuesday at the West Bank Union Auditorium, didn’t necessarily ease such concerns. About 40 students, employees and local business owners shot questions and discussion topics at Ron Campbell, associate vice president for Housing and Food Services.
University administrators are looking for an alternative to their ailing food operations, which offer vending, catering, dining and retailing services. Campbell makes the final decision on whether or not Food Services will be contracted to an outside vendor.
He said the most difficult part of the forum was “being the brunt of people’s fears and frustrations.”
This was the second time that many of the employees met; the first was on Friday at an employee-only meeting. Two more public forums are planned for this week. These meetings are the last few chances for University community members to express their concerns because negotiations are quickly coming to an end.
Some students wondered why they weren’t asked for their input earlier in the process.
“This is the first time students have been allowed to have any say at all. It’s been a closed process,” said Jorg Rivera, a junior in political science and a member of the Coffman Memorial Union Board of Governors.
Rivera said that because administrators held the forums 16 days before a recommendation is to be made to the University’s Vice Presidents Executive Council, there is not enough time for student concerns to be considered.
Campbell said community concerns are being heard and the forums this week are a part of that process. He added that other subcommittees of students, such as in residence halls, have been formed for student concerns.
“We didn’t want one voice. If we didn’t hear others, it’s because they didn’t speak to us,” Campbell said.
He said that this proposal process is actually more open and inclusive than past University decisions. Campbell said that usually decisions are made and the impact is felt later.
“That’s the reason why I don’t take it to heart,” Campbell said, referring to the anger expressed by students and employees. “I understand what people don’t know.”
There are two students on the 18-person evaluation team. Eight members of the group, including one student, are able to vote. Andre Viktora, president of the board of governors and a non-voting member of the evaluation team, was at the forum.
She is also concerned with the lack of student involvement in the negotiation process. Although Viktora said she will recommend a vendor, she said that her expectations of business hours, quality and price might not be met because she does not have that information.
“Right now (the decision) is based on presentation skills,” said Viktora. Only Campbell reserves the right to negotiate concerns with the vendor.
In addition to feeling that student issues would not be addressed this late in the negotiation process, some employees and students said that the forum didn’t answer their questions.
“There’s no concrete answers being given until negotiations have taken place,” said Pete Larson, a junior in sociology and a member of the board of governors.
Board members are also concerned that Coffman Memorial Union won’t get revenue from the vendors that it needs to operate.
At Friday’s employee forum, attended by about 65 food service workers and Campbell, similar concerns about involvement surfaced.
Employee’s fears include decreased wages, demotion of employee status and lack of representation on the Food Service Evaluation Team. The void of employee input in the negotiation process increased on Monday when the only union representative resigned from the committee.
Sue Mauren, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 320 Union and one of the non-voting members of the team, said she has served her purpose on the committee by speaking on behalf of the employees.
But her conflicting role as an employee advocate lead her to withdraw from her position.
Campbell said he was disappointed that Mauren resigned, but understands her difficult position.
“I still see her as active in this process,” he said.
Mauren said she is not sure if a food service partnership is in the best interest of the University. One of Mauren’s main concerns is that there was no remodeling or upgrading of food services sites. “I question whether or not there was a serious attempt to do this in-house.”