Aramark, the food-services company formerly employed by Yale University Dining Services, is now facing allegations of mismanagement and poor food quality from cafeteria workers and custodians in New Haven Public Schools.
Complaints about Aramark began in late November when a few parents expressed concern over the food quality at a school board meeting and have escalated to today’s union-led protest rally at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School in New Haven.
The rally is being organized by UNITE HERE, a union that includes hotel, restaurant and some cafeteria employees and is affiliated with the Federation of Hospital and University Employees, the union for service workers at Yale. Council 4 and Service Employees International Union, both custodial-worker unions, are also involved in the organizing the rally.
Protesters will be asking the New Haven Board of Education to terminate Aramark’s contract because they think the company puts profit before the needs of the students, said Evan Cobb, director of communications for FHUE.
According to UNITE HERE, Aramark has lost money for the New Haven school district, creating a $1.1 million deficit. Cobb said they have also failed to fill empty positions in the custodial and food- service department and to rectify equipment shortages.
“Aramark has shown that they can’t do the job right, and we need to do something about it,” Cobb said.
But Aramark denies these claims. Kristine Grow, a spokeswoman for Aramark, said the uproar in New Haven has nothing to do with the service or quality of food, and the unions are simply attempting to get more members. She said they are distributing misinformation to Aramark’s employees in order to compel them to join the union.
“We have produced $1 million in savings per year through energy efficiency, we have increased the number of students participating in our meal plan, and we have reinvested by purchasing new kitchen equipment,” said Grow.
Cheryl Barbara, a chef employed by the school district who spoke at a recent school board meeting, said she packs a lunch for her children everyday because she is not satisfied with the quality of the food she is given to prepare by Aramark.
The Local 287 division of Council 4 had almost 100 percent of its membership sign a petition calling for the Board of Education to fire Aramark, said Larry Dorman, a Council 4 spokesman. He said members felt Aramark has badly mismanaged custodial services, and the company’s inefficient decision-making process has made it difficult for them to do their jobs.
“Aramark’s presence has added a harmful air of bureaucratic management,” Dorman said. “And over the next few weeks, we will be out in the community letting people know about the situation.”
Yale notified Aramark that they would not renew their contract in June 2007, and the corporation has not been in control of University dining services since Jan. 1, 2008. Administrators said the decision had nothing to do with the quality of service being provided by Aramark.
“Dining Services had reached a level of customer satisfaction and fundamental stability, in some part due to Aramark’s management,” Ernst Huff, associate vice president for student financial and administrative services told the News in August. “We’ve just reached a point where we can now move on without necessarily having a large corporation as a partner.”
Hugh Baran ’09 has been publicizing the rally on campus and plans to attend the rally today. He said he thinks Aramark is a company that does not operate with the public good in mind.
“For me, one of the most compelling things about it is that this is one of the only meals some kids get all day, but the meal is bad,” Baran said. “It’s just really appalling.”
Catherine Sullivan-DeCarlo, the director of communications for New Haven public schools, said the district leadership has heard the concerns and are taking them very seriously. So far they have not taken any action on the issue.
The protest rally will feature a number of speakers, including General President of UNITE HERE Bruce Raynor and John W. Wilhelm, president of UNITE HERE’s hospitality division. There may also be a speech from a New Haven Public Schools student, Cobb said.
The rally is scheduled to take place at 4:30 p.m. Friday at Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School in New Haven.