Lost jobs and better food?

By Dale Miller

Will you taste the difference?

After May 1, students at the University of Calgary may see new food choices, thanks to the outsourcing of Campus Food Services to the international food services corporation Chartwells.

The decision to enter into negotiations with Chartwells was made by the U of C Board of Governors. This decision could save the university as much as $7 million over ten years, but 298 employees–including 176 students–could lose their jobs.

Albi Sole, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 52 is up in arms with the Feb. 11 decision. The BoG sought to outsource Food Services because of what they saw as the steady decline of Food Services over the last 10 years. Sole believes such problems could be solved without outsourcing.

“This is a disaster for the workers, but also for the university,” said Sole. “There is no guarantee that anyone will be hired back, they will lose their benefits, their pensions and in many cases get lower wages.”

According to U of C Vice-President Finance and Services Mike McAdam, Chartwells expressed a desire to allow any employees who lose their jobs with the university to re-apply for their positions. While there is no contractual obligation, McAdam feels Chartwells will keep their word and will push for them to do so in the upcoming negotiations.

“All of these employees are important, and we clearly have a desire to help students,” said McAdam. “I suspect that on April 30, 300 people will cease to be employees of Food Services, and on May 1, x number will be employees of Chartwells.”

Seeing things from both sides, the Students’ Union is morally stuck firmly on the fence about the privatization of food services, but practically in support of the decision.

“The SU sympathizes with the union’s perspective, particularly with the long-term employees with only a couple years left on their pension,” said SU President Bryan West. “But the university is going to save money, and students are going to see improved services.”

In addition to his concerns about the loss of union jobs, Sole is wary about the bad media Chartwells has been receiving at McGill University, where late last year, the McGill Daily newspaper reported student employees being stifled by their Chartwells managers.

West feels the problems arose from an irregular transition in management.

“The major problem at McGill was that no contract was negotiated. As leases came up they were handed over to Chartwells,” explained West, adding that many of the food services at McGill were run by student groups. “Student groups became upset when their leases came up, and they never negotiated a strong enough deal.”

Sole is also concerned with Chartwells’ status as a large international corporation, feeling they place too much emphasis on profit and not enough on people. Sole feels the university has joined itself at the hip with a company that has a fundamentally different philosophy in how it treats people.

McAdam firmly disagrees with Sole’s allegations and feels that outsourcing is clearly the way to go at the U of C.

“Chartwells is successful because it delivers good customer satisfaction, and they are regarded as a good food service provider,” said McAdam. “We got a group of people together and decided to take a serious look at food services on campus to see how we could make it better. It became obvious that outsourcing was the only way to improve quality–we just aren’t in the food service business.”

In spite of last Friday’s BoG decision, Sole is hoping an AUPE information picket on Tue., Mar. 8 will embarrass administration into changing their minds and rebuilding food services themselves. McAdam is not optimistic about their chances.

“They are free to continue talking about this, but quite frankly, we’ve spent over a year of research on this decision,” said McAdam. “It was done with full consultation with the union, full consultation with the community–especially the undergraduate and graduate students.

“No, we’re not going to re-visit this decision.”

The next step in the changeover is for the university to enter into negotiations with Chartwells over the details of the contract. Representatives from the SU, the Graduate Students’ Association, and the Residence Students’ Association will speak for students in the negotiations.

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