UMES Opts To Privatize Dining Services, Dozens Of Jobs At Risk
PRINCESS ANNE, Md. - It's been over six months since we first learned that the University of Maryland Eastern Shore was toying with the idea of privatizing their food services, putting many jobs at risk. Wednesday morning, the school announced it has decided to contract with a commercial food service provider.
"The food at the university, I'm not a fan of it," junior Briana Wilkerson said.
"It could be a lot better, a lot healthier," freshman Jazmin Goolesby said.
Many students at UMES sound happy about the school's decision to transfer its current food services program to a private-vendor.
The school says the move would provide students with a wider variety of food options.
"This was a difficult decision, and one that we took great care in researching to ensure we are doing what is best for our students and our university. With the limited dining options available in the community, our students have been requesting other dining options such as named brand vendors and a wider variety of food options to accommodate diverse dietary needs," President Juliette Bell said.
"I mean if it's going to bring in some better food, like healthier food, maybe it will be better. Because right now it's a lot of fried stuff," freshman Charles Jorgensen said.
"A lot of people have food allergies on campus and a lot of people-- some people are vegans on campus. There's not really many options out there for them,"
More options for students, but less certainty for the union workers who protested the move. Approximately 80 dining services employees now risk losing their jobs. They can apply for positions with the commercial company, but there's no guarantee. Those we spoke with are trying to stay positive.
"I'm kind of confident that when I do apply, that I will be able to get it because of the experience that I have. I'm happy with the change. Change is for the good," dining services employee Ladonna Jacobs said.
"I would like to stay here, under the new, but if not, well, I'll seek some other employment. It's like this – it is what it is," Theresa Collins said.
The contract with the commercial company still needs to be approved at the state level. Once it goes through, the company is supposed to match the salary levels that were current at the time of the bid, if any of the current workers are hired. But union reps from TheAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees say the move forces workers below the poverty line.
"The university admits their dining services program brings in more than $500,000.00 each year to support student services. But this move will destroy decent paying, family sustaining jobs and a large out-of-state corporation will reap big profits that come from payments our students make when they pay for meal programs. This is just wrong and President Bell needs to know that AFSCME members will continue to work with elected leaders and student groups to fight moves like this which force workers into poverty wages," AFSCME Maryland President Patrick Moran said.
School officials say once the contract is complete, the vendor will likely start on July 1st.
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