UMES Employees Protest Potential Privatization Of Dining Service - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

UMES Employees Protest Potential Privatization Of Dining Services

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PRINCESS ANNE, Md. - Dozens of students and employees at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore came out in protest Wednesday, after the school announced it sent out Requests for Proposals (RFP) - looking into the possibility of transferring the current food services program over to a private-vendor to save money.

"In the university system of Maryland, there are three institutions that have in-house food service. We're one of the three. A majority of the other institutions have private sector vendors. We wanted to see where we stack up against the private sector in terms of what we do. And this is a yard stick to see if we are doing the best job in-house that we can in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness," UMES Spokesperson Bill Robinson said.

The RFP's were sent out on Sept. 27, inviting private companies to submit business plans on how they might operate a public institution's food service program.

"You're looking at over 80 people - probably 100 people of students and employees that will be affected with the possibility of losing their jobs," Joe Hartman, president of local UMES chapter of AFSCME said.

"The people that work in the cafe, they've got families to support," student Paul Jerry said.

With the fear of layoffs, students and employees joined the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME) in circulating a petition that gathered more than 800 signatures over the past few weeks.

Wednesday morning, they marched the petition right up to the president's office demanding a meeting with Dr. Juliette Bell.

"Those big companies come in here and they're about big profits. They're not going to be concerned about the student - our workers are concerned about the students' well-being," UMES employee Ralph Nichol said.

If the university decides to bring in a private vendor, the assumption is that all current employees would have to reapply for their positions. Food service workers at the school are currently being paid approximately $10 - $11 an hour.

"The RFP's have requested for the first year, just $9 an hour. So you're looking at a pay cut if the company does come in," Hartman said.

The RFP actually states that if the university decides to outsource its food service operation, a private-sector vendor would be obligated contractually to pay its employees an hourly wage of no less than $8.50 during the first year of the contract, and no less than $9 an hour for the second year. This would exclude student employees.

University officials say it's far too early to tell how everything will pan out.

"We're way ahead of ourselves here. RFP's are due November 18, so it's all speculation now. We may find that on November 19 that we're doing a great job in-house and the RFP's aren't worth pursuing," Robinson said.

Dr. Bell is currently out of town, so the petition is just sitting on her desk until she returns.

WMDT asked university officials if any companies have mailed in their bids yet, but we're told they can't release that information until the November 18 deadline. However, officials expect they'll make a decision by the end of the year.

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