At the beginning of this month, President Bolton informed the campus community, in emails that were sent five days apart, that the College was outsourcing dining and custodial services and raising the cost of attendance by 3.5%. The abject horror of a 3.5% increase in tuition speaks for itself. However, the ominousness of the College’s decision to outsource dining and custodial services is less obvious.
I know students haven’t appreciated the issues caused by the chronic staffing shortages in campus dining but I assure you that outsourcing these services is not an ideal solution to these issues. Many colleges and universities ceased their self-operating dining services decades ago as a means to save money. They began to outsource to multinational food services corporations like Sodexo, Aramark and Compass Group because they promised that they would be able to negotiate more cost-effective contracts with food and beverage manufacturers like Tyson, JBS or Cargill. Sodexo, Aramark and Compass Group own the vast majority of dining contracts in the United States. Each company is able to boast billions in revenue because of their contracts with schools, hospitals, stadiums and prisons. Since food manufacturing corporations want a cut of these lucrative deals, the manufacturing corporations (Tyson, JBS or Cargill) will pay the service corporations a kickback, or rebate, for buying large amounts of their product.
Not only are these massive corporations complicit in the destruction of the environment and independently-owned family farms but the service workers in their employment are rarely compensated well. Aramark has even allegedly utilized prison labor. It is alarming that one of these companies could potentially be controlling the kind of food we eat and overseeing our dining services staff.
The college has tried to shift the blame of their staffing shortages on anyone but themselves. President Bolton lamented the college’s struggle to hire more staff “despite rapidly increased wages and benefits” in her email. If the pandemic and the nationwide labor shortage exacerbated already existing issues, what steps did they take to prevent a staffing shortage so dire they could no longer remain self-operating? Yes, the college recently increased the staff’s starting hourly rate to fourteen dollars. But did the people already working for fourteen dollars an hour already get a raise? What else did they do to make this campus a safer and healthier working environment? According to the college’s 990 tax forms, found on ProPublica, President Bolton was paid $623,062 in the fiscal year of 2020. This makes her the highest paid college president in the NCAC and GLCA. How does our president, who was able to take home six figures in a year of profound financial hardship, have the audacity to portray the increase in the starting wage to fourteen dollars an hour as a painful concession?
In 2013, former college President Cornwall informed the campus community that they were considering outsourcing dining services. This admission was met with immense pushback and mobilization. Eventually they decided to maintain their self-operating dining system, until now, of course. In 2022, the College has assured in both their email announcing the decision and in communication to staff that they would ensure that the future contractor will provide the same wages and benefits, including the tuition benefits. Although, I find it supremely difficult to have faith in their promises. Especially, when we do not know who the contractor will be yet and had no idea that the College was even considering outsourcing these services until after they had already made a decision. Even if I did trust this College’s administration, I don’t think they will be able to control the whims of a corporation whose primary objective is to turn a profit.
Love and solidarity forever to the people who work in dining and custodial services. They are the ones who brew us coffee early in the morning and feed us late into the night. Through inclement weather or a global pandemic, they are always here for us. We should be there for them through this transition.