At 4:23 p.m. on April 25th of this year, Eastern Michigan University’s Director of Purchasing issued a request for proposals (RFP) for food campus food services. The RFP included a requirement to RSVP to a “mandatory” meeting by 5 p.m. the same day as the RFP came out. That mandatory meeting was scheduled for the following day.
37 minutes. Applicants were given 37 minutes to indicate their interest and RSVP to a meeting happening less than 24 hours later. And, by some miracle, several groups including Chartwells, a subsidiary of a British firm called The Compass Group, managed to RSVP by the 5 p.m. deadline. Why, it’s almost as if they had been given advance notice that the 30-page RFP was coming!
I mention Chartwells because they are widely expected to be awarded the business at the next EMU Board of Regents meeting on June 21st at 1 p.m. in Welch Hall (2nd floor). Chartwells is an interesting choice given their history. A year and half ago, students at a Connecticut high school began boycotting school lunches served by Chartwell for an assortment of disgusting reasons:
“Awful,” according to [17-year-old Christy] Rosario and other student organizers behind the boycott, doesn’t mean a tad bland or a bit too spicy. Since Chartwells replaced the district’s in-house meal program in 2012, according to the students, it has meant an increasingly unpalatable menu, with food that sometimes features mold, human hair, dangerously undercooked meats, insects and portion sizes fit for a small, starving child.
Chartwells was also busted for malfeasance in the Washington, D.C. school system:
Chartwells was one of the vendors who settled a $19 million lawsuit involving their food services for the Washington D.C.’s school system, in which it was alleged the vendor “overcharged the city and mismanaged the school meals programs, with food often arriving at schools late, spoiled or in short supply.”
Last year, students at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan voiced complaints about Chartwells, as well.
The big question is why? Why was this RFP done so hastily, particularly since the EMU administration has admitted that the food service program as it exists now is cost-effective, bringing in a surplus of several million dollars a year and has been making more money than ever for that past several years.
Yesterday, students and campus workers held a press conference to shine a light on the highly irregular situation and issued an open letter to the Regents asking them to slow down and to seek input from “students, faculty, workers and their unions” before making a final decision.
“When the majority of student stakeholders are absent from the table, then we are on the menu,” said Steve Kwasny, a student majoring in history and political science at EMU. “We eat this food. I strongly believe students should be considered before a major change in food services.”
Jason Crispell, president of AFSCME Local 3866, the union representing food service and maintenance workers at EMU, went further. “What’s the big rush?” he asked. “There are millions of public dollars at stake here, as well as the health and well-being of thousands of students – and the jobs of our members. What we’re saying is, this is a big decision. Let’s take some time and get it right.”
EMU spokesman Geoff Larcom is now trying to pretend that the “mandatory” meeting was not “mandatory”:
Larcom debunked the claim through the RFP, noting that attendance of the pre-proposal meeting was not mandatory and “did not preclude you from participating” in the proposal process, which had a submission deadline of May 13.
Despite his comments, it’s hard to see it as anything else. Here’s how it was phrased in the RFP:
Screenshot from EMU’s RFP for campus food services released on April 25, 2016
I’m sorry, Mr. Larcom, but there’s something about “mandatory” being in BOLD ALL-CAPS that suggests that it was … you know … mandatory.
Organizers have started an online petition, calling for EMU Regents to NOT outsource food services to a private for-profit corporation. You can sign the petition HERE.
There will also be a rally in front of Welch Hall at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, June 21st just prior to the Regents’ meeting. All are welcomed.
Finally, they are asking supporters to send a signed copy of the letter to the Regents. You can do this a couple of ways. First, you can make a PDF of your signed copy of the letter and send it to the Regents Board Secretary, Vicki Reaume at email@example.com with a request that she forward it on to all of the Regents. Alternatively, you can send a signed copy of the letter by U.S. Postal Service to: Eastern Michigan University, Board of Regents Office, 207 Welch Hall, Ypsilanti, MI 48197.
The privatizing of essential services has a sordid history in Michigan lately. From the prison food services scandals surrounding Aramark to the shockingly terrible treatment of retired veterans at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans, it’s been proven time and again that corporations cut corners to enhance their taxpayer-funded profits and those who utilize or are recipients of those services are the ones who suffer (along with the workers who lose their jobs, of course.)
Given that the EMU Regents are appointed by the governor, it’s not particularly surprising that they share Gov. Snyder’s misguided and thoroughly-debunked belief that corporations can provide better services than government employees, even when their taxpayer-funded profits are on the line.