U may privatize its food services

by Nancy Ngo

By the end of the school year, one company might have the rights to install, maintain, manage and operate all food services at the University.
A food service partnership between a food vendor and the University will be considered at the end of the month when bidding proposals from the private companies return. The bids are contractor or vendor plans for managing the University’s food service facilities, which include retail, catering, vending and residential dining facilities. The grant would not include full-service beverage because of contract agreements with the Coca-Cola company.
If students, staff and faculty members on a University committee decide to accept any one of the bids, it would mean that the campus’ needs would be better served by the school’s food services, said Ron Campbell, associate vice president of Housing and Food Services. He is also the chairman of the evaluation committee.
“The process is about asking questions for the University community,” said Campbell.
But, employees said contracting the University’s food services out to private companies could also raise food prices and jeopardize workers’ jobs.
The procedure to find a food contractor for the University has been similar to when the University was searching for a beverage partner, Campbell said. He said looking at offers does not mean a contract will be made. Rather, the offers will be used for companies to communicate their plans with students, faculty, staff and the Office of Academic Affairs.
A suitable proposal for a food services partnership would be recommended to the Board of Regents by March. If a food service partnership were to be made, Campbell said he plans to start to contract in July for the beginning of the fiscal year.
Food prices on campus might go up, regardless of the outcome of this bidding process. “We have been raising our own prices without outsourcing,” Campbell said. Outsourcing grants a private company the right to install, maintain, manage and operate food services.
He said heading toward privatization might give the school more control of costs because some companies can buy products at lower prices than the University.
Mary Ann Ryan, director of Housing and Residential Life, and a member of the selection committee, said the most favorable proposals will serve students better and show financial stability. “What we’re really looking at is a way for our total food service to be improved through a model relationship.”
A book of guidelines on food services and the bidding process states that the University’s goal is to maximize the market potential so that food services can “compete with adjacent retail environments in order to keep students on campus.”
There have been several additions and revisions to the list of the University’s needs since the original requests for bids were distributed in the fall.
The first request was for running retail food services, but that has expanded to include vending, dining and catering services.
Mike Turner, a union steward and cook at Hubert H. Humphrey Food Service on the West Bank, was officially notified that he might soon have another employer at an employee meeting in December.
He said he was alarmed at the news because employees are not guaranteed their same jobs through the new tentative contract. “At first, I thought that we’ll probably be working for McDonald’s in six months.”
However, the book of guidelines expresses the committee’s support for employees, including union and trade employees. The request also states support for other employees, such as middle-management workers who are not guaranteed placement if a contractor was to take over food services.
Turner said that it would be ideal if hourly workers remained University employees without jobs lost, wages changed or employees transferred to other departments. He said he wants enforcement of existing contracts.