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As EMU moves to privatize dining services, union workers worry

Eastern Michigan University
Flickr - http://bit.ly/1rFrzRK
Eastern Michigan University

Union workers say they’re holding a press conference Tuesday at Eastern Michigan University to talk about their concerns over the school’s move to privatize dining services.

In a letter to students and staff on Monday, interim EMU President Don Loppnow says an outside vendor will pay the school enough to “expand and upgrade the dining facilities while maintaining high-quality food offerings and services.”

While the administration isn’t releasing details about the deals it’s considering with private food vendors, Loppnow’s letter says it includes capital investments “which total in the millions of dollars over the life of the arrangement…”

“It is important to note that Eastern’s overarching institutional priority is to provide our students with a solid educational and research experience – one that will lead to successful careers upon graduation. While our current food services operation and employees do an excellent job, food services is simply not the University’s core mission. Educating students is. "This process will allow us to continue to focus even more directly on our primary mission, while turning over food services to an organization that provides high quality services at many colleges and universities and local school districts across the country. This is where they excel.”

But union members say they feel like the school’s request for proposals from vendors was rushed, and that the administration – which now says that union workers will be able to keep their jobs as EMU employees – has changed its story, after first telling workers they’d only be getting the right of refusal for dining service jobs.

Jason Crispell is the president of AFSCME Local 3866, which represents food service and maintenance workers at EMU. He says even if the current workers are allowed to stay on as EMU employees, the private vendor will be able to fill any new or vacant jobs with private workers – and gradually erode the union’s bargaining power on campus.

Crispell says they have reason to believe EMU is looking at bringing in Chartwells dining services, which a spokesperson for the school did not confirm.

Chartwells was one of the vendors who settled a $19 million lawsuit involving their food services for the Washington D.C.’s school system, in which it was alleged the vendor “overcharged the city and mismanaged the school meals programs, with food often arriving at schools late, spoiled or in short supply.”

Howard Bunsis, an EMU accounting professor and faculty union member, has started anonline petitionasking the school’s Board of Regents to rethink privatization, and “direct the EMU administration to conduct a fair and inclusive process where students, faculty, workers and their unions are consulted before a decision is made.”

"Privatization is going to lead to lower quality and students paying more," Bunsis says. "And we just think that's wrong."

Interim EMU President Don Loppnow says he’ll ask the Board to approve the administration’s recommendations at the June 21 meeting. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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