MSA concerned about Coffman food contract

Tracy Ellingson

The Minnesota Student Association, racing for time against fast-approaching University food service negotiations, approved a resolution on Tuesday that calls for immunity for the Twin Cities student unions from any new contracts.
MSA members, concerned that University administration may sign a long-term contract with an outside food vendor without giving the union boards a voice in the negotiations, passed the resolution with a nearly unanimous vote. The University is expected to negotiate a contract with a food vendor on March 27 — during spring break.
The resolution’s authors originally introduced a plan to exclude only Coffman Memorial Union from the new contract. An amendment was later added to include all Twin Cities student unions.
“In sum it’s pretty simple,” said resolution co-author, Corey Donovan. “This is our student union. We pay student fees to cover it. It’s for students. It’s Coffman student union, folks, and the student union should be able to make its own decisions.”
Coffman director Maggie Towle said that the union, which is expected to undergo renovations in 1998, will rely on finances from retail organizations inside Coffman if the renovations occur. Currently, the union provides space for University Food Services restaurants. The tenants pay the utility costs, but the union does not receive rent or make a profit from the food services.
“In the current program, nothing goes to anybody, really,” said Ron Campbell, associate vice president for Housing and Food Services, referring to the food services’ inability to generate revenue and provide profit to its investors.
Campbell, who negotiated the contract with Coca-Cola last spring that ensured that only Coke products can be sold on campus, said that bringing in outside vendors has proven profitable to the University.
“One of the advantages with Coca-Cola,” Campbell said, “is we found a way through these types of deals to restructure the revenue so everybody gets a fair share, or at least everybody gets (a share of) the benefit.”
MSA representative Jennifer Halko said she wanted to ensure that Coffman would receive a share of any profits made through whichever food service takes over; however she expressed concern about a severance from the negotiations.
“I would like to… not exclude Coffman from the privatization because it looks like that’s the way (the University) is going to go,” Halko said, “but rather that Coffman should receive the profits that would make up for the rent that the places were taking up.”
But a majority of MSA members supported the severance, stating that the contract would take away the unions’ autonomy by tying them into a 10-15 year contract. Also, students expressed concern that University administrators mightnot follow through on promises regarding Coffman receiving some profit under a new contract.
MSA President Helen Phin said that because student union representation is excluded in the final negotiation process, Campbell could likely make a deal with the new vendor that provides no specific stipulations with what to do with any profits.
“By virtue of that exclusion, I am predicting that Coffman will not get a share of the pie,” Phin said, “and that in negotiating this contract, the University will just go for the money it can get from the vendor and … disperse it as they see fit.”