Employees speak up about future food service

by Nancy Ngo

University food service workers gave the ARAMARK corporation a taste of what they expect from a contract with the private food vendor at a meeting Thursday.
The company’s representatives explored potential future relationships with University food service employees, especially regarding who would be in charge of union negotiations for the employees. Employees were also concerned that they could potentially lose their jobs because of a private partnership.
More than anything, the employees wanted to have a voice in the decision-making process.
“When you get to this point in time, you have to look at the people who are running the operation and ask what happened here,” said Sue Mauren, secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters Local 320 Union.
Mauren added that though it is too late to solicit input from employees regarding how to fix the failure of University food service operations, a future relationship with ARAMARK should include such employee input.
Employees discussed three specific options for future union negotiations. Currently, the 200 union food service employees work directly with the University to formulate contracts. The Board of Regents will likely decide in June whether to keep the current situation, allow employees to negotiate with ARAMARK or permit employees to develop contracts with the University for two more years and then re-evaluate.
“If the University would negotiate a collective bargaining agreement, then that part will continue the way its been,” said ARAMARK District Manager Douglas Hubbard.
Curt Swenson, a union employee and cook at Comstock Hall, suggested to Hubbard that a committee of bargaining unit employees be able to negotiate with ARAMARK on how to address labor issues.
“My fear is that our benefits and wages will be drastically cut,” he said. “I think that is my fear, Ron’s and what the employees fear.”
Ron Campbell, associate vice president of Housing and Food Services, is the person charged with communicating important partnership issues, including employee and student concerns, to ARAMARK and other University administrators.
Hubbard agreed to meet with union employees and talk about forming a committee. In addition, the parties would address possible changes in the collective bargaining process.
“From our perspective, we want to remain University employees,” Mauren said.
Union labor agreements with the University end June 30.
Because University administrators have little time to decide which negotiation strategy they prefer, Campbell offered a third option to the possible scenarios for bargaining.
He said the union members could continue to negotiate with the University for an extended amount of time. This option would give the University two more years to decide who will conduct labor negotiations with University employees under an ARAMARK contract.
Campbell said that he would prefer the third option for University employees because time is running out, and the University must save jobs. If a contract is not made with ARAMARK, the University would continue to lose money, and this could result in employee layoffs.
“It is not the best decision, but it is the best position so that we can move forward expediently. The best decision might be decided two years from now,” he said.
However, ARAMARK does not intend to lay off University employees and replace them with new workers if the corporation enters a food service agreement with the University. The corporation has not yet determined specific provisions of the partnership because a contract with the University has yet to be finalized.
Hubbard said that ARAMARK is not looking to decrease aspects of food services. Rather, they want to expand the operations.
“Our goal is to increase employment and increase utilization of food service on campus,” he said. “When things are happening on campus, there is a tremendous benefit.”