SG town hall focuses on dining future, workers’ contracts

Last night, student government brought together administrators to talk about housing and dining issues to a packed house in the Booth School.

By Benjamin Pokross

An SG-hosted town hall meeting last night addressed major changes in Housing and Dining services, including the hot-button topic of job security among University employees.

Staff members from both Housing and Dining Services and Facilities Services spoke about the ongoing negotiations to find a new contractor.

The formal request for proposals (RFP) from contractors bidding for the housekeepers’ jobs went out Monday, according to Executive Director of Facilities Services Operations Joel Schriever. He said he expects four vendors to respond in a few weeks.

At the same time, Facilities Services is in talks with Local 743, the union that represents University housekeepers, according to Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer for Management Services Erin Weiand.

Facilities Services had a preliminary meeting with the union on April 19 and has scheduled a second, more substantive meeting for May 16.

Schriever tried to reassure the attendants that there will not be wholesale firings, though he said that legal considerations limited the amount he could disclose.

“Verbally, the bidders have indicated that they’ll retain the current workers in the residence halls,” Schriever said.

Schriever and Weiand also responded to recent questions regarding the motivations behind merging Facilities Services and Housing.

“When we began this conversation it was, ‘How do we bring the best service to our students in the current structure?’”Associate Vice President for Campus Life and Associate Dean of Students in the University Karen Warren Coleman said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of depth and experience in Facilities. Housing hasn’t been able to develop [that same depth],” Schriever said, also noting some of the difficulties in addressing the residence halls’ different needs and procedures.

“We would like to bring some more modern means and methods to this process,” Weiand said, including more efficient vacuum cleaners and software to help clean most efficiently.

Coleman stressed that the Housing Office intends to keep both the student body and the housekeepers informed, though he qualified that negotiations are more advanced for Dining Services. According to Coleman four suppliers have submitted proposals for dining: Aramark, Au Bon Pain, Sodexo, and Sugarplum.

Like Facilities Services, Housing and Dining Services did not stipulate in their RFP that the new contractor will need to maintain all the current housekeeping staff.

According to Coleman, all the companies with submitted proposals have said they want to continue the University’s commitment to its housing staff and to provide them with a living wage.

Coleman argued that it made the most sense for the new contractor to retain the current workers, who already understand the complexities of the system.

“It’s in their advantage that they take on our staff,” she said.

Coleman emphasized that the administration understands the role of residential staff in student life. “Especially in the residence halls, they are part of these communities in a really essential way,” she said.

Coleman said Facilities should have more exact information about the new contractor and meal plans in about three weeks.