Tuesday, April 29, 2008


According to the New Haven Independent New Haven’s public schools are moving toward managing their own kitchens...and getting the giant corporation Aramark out of the kitchen.

The surprise announcement came during a briefing by Chief Operating Officer Will Clark at the Board of Education’s (BOE) monthly meeting Monday.

Students, parents and union members have repeatedly criticized Aramark for poor quality food, unwise purchasing, and lack of openness about its budget (pictured here are a tray of moldy apples Aramark passed off to a self-contained classroom of special education students at Gateway Institute of Technology in St. Louis).

Remember lunch at school? I kinda do. In grade school I lived so close by that I actually went home for lunch (probably aren't allowed to do that anymore). Also, my mom packed me a lunch to save money and to see that I ate something worthwhile. In High School, I was really for the first time introduced to school lunch. Believe it or not I actually liked the stuff. Probably because it was crap, I don't know. Also, believe it or not it was at school that I was first introduced to pizza.

Well, since those days you'd think the quality of lunch for the nation's kids prepared at their schools would have greatly improved.

I guess not.

And now it seems, at least I never knew, that private companies are involved in the business. Not at all surprisingly quality of food is of little concern to these companies. It is about the money, stupid. It is so much about money that many of these "food service" companies are also in the custodial business at school, too.

About 200 protesters – members of Connecticut Council 4 and their supporters – demanded at an April 14 rally that the New Haven school system stop contracting out work that has been outsourced to privateer Aramark for the last 12 years. AFSCME Pres. Gerald W. McEntee told the crowd that day, “We want to tell all the aldermen, and we want to tell the mayor … that it is their job to fire Aramark and get them the hell out of town.”

“Aramark is a publicly traded company looking to make large amounts of money at the expense of the students,” said Larry Dorman, public affairs coordinator for Council 4.

According to Montouri, the union claims Aramark supervisors lack custodial experience, leading to ill-advised choices in purchasing and management. They also allege Aramark fostered a hostile work environment and failed to fill vacant positions.

“We all know what to do, (and) we know what our job is, as long as they let us do it,” Montouri said. “They’re not allowing us to do our job correctly. A child or teacher comes in, and sees a carpet that hasn’t been vacuumed. They think we’re bums. They don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes.”

So in some places like New Haven everyone is getting tired of that act.

Cheryl Barbara is one of those people. Cheryl has been a cook in New Haven schools for 20 years. Cheryl packs a lunch from home for her child because she doesn’t approve of the public schools’ lunches.

Cheryl blames Aramark, the company that manages school food service in New Haven. She was among a group of parents and union employees from the Local 217 of the hotel and restaurant workers’ union who voiced their opinions about Aramark way last November to the school district.

The group complained that Aramark, which took over food service management four years ago, has lowered the quality of school food by placing their emphasis on making money rather than making good lunches. “They took away all the home cooking. It’s all about packaging now,” Cheryl told the Independent, noting an increased use of packaged foods under Aramark’s management.

Along with decreased food quality, speakers asked the school board to hold a public hearing to talk about food service in the schools and to find out why, according to the group, Aramark has driven the NHPS food service program $1 million over budget.

Cheryl said her union requested a copy of Aramark’s contract with the city, but that so much was whited-out on the documents that they received that they were unable to make use of them. “Huge amounts of the report were redacted, ” said Cheryl. “They said it was because they were confidential trade secrets of Aramark. But it’s run on our tax dollars.”

If the cook doesn't trust the food, should parents?

I don't think so.

They don't.

The parents in New Haven say in a petition to the mayor that Aramark is not giving their children sufficient fresh and nutritious food and that the amount of produce is too limited. Additionally, they believe Aramark’s portion sizes are too small for growing high school students.

Maybe the folks in New Haven are just picky.

Nope, google the company and you'll find them under attack by parents, students and workers hither and yon.

By the way, it isn't just schools and students who are being short changed. It's jails and inmates, too.

Out in Oakland, California earlier this year People's World reports union members gathered across from Alameda County’s Glenn Dyer Detention Facility to demand that the county put its contract for food services at county jail facilities out to bid, rather than rubber-stamping a five-year extension of its contract with Aramark Correctional Services.

Union leaders and Aramark workers pointed to the international corporation’s dismal record in fulfilling food service contracts with correctional facilities and schools elsewhere in the country, citing problems including quality of food and provision of “phantom” meals.

Bruce Raynor, UNITE HERE general president pointed out, for example, at the Oakland rally, “This company Aramak, whether it’s in dining halls, in stadiums, does two things from one end of North America to the other, they abuse their workers and they abuse their clients.”

Auditors at Florida’s Department of Corrections found that Aramark had billed $5 million worth of “phantom” meals at state prison facilities, Raynor said. “The state of Florida is investigating Aramark, and Alameda County ought to do the same,” he added.

Citing quality and fulfillment problems experienced by Texas jails, and by public schools in Philadelphia, Detroit and New Haven, Conn., Raynor said workers who have tried to blow the whistle on Aramark’s practices have been harassed and punished.

I don't know but I'd bet if I kept looking I'd find this company feeding elderly in nursing homes as well. I'd be right.

Besides schools and jails, Aramark says it provides "service" to universities, hospitals, nursing homes, stadiums, convention centers, recreational venues, and private.

Aramark operates all over the world and all over the world its workers are an unhappy lot.

At Seneca College, just outside Toronto, cafeteria and janitorial staff began a strike, demanding improvements in wages and benefits. The workers, employed by the multi-national food service giant Aramark, earn just above minimum wage, and receive little in benefits while facing "abusive behaviour by supervisors." The strike followed Aramark’s offer of a raise of ten cents per hour, which workers have called "ridiculous." "We voted – 100 per cent – to take strike action, because these poor working conditions can't go on," said Andy Chui, a janitor at Seneca's Markham campus and member of UNITE HERE’s Aramark bargaining committee. "This company makes a lot of money (ed. note - total sales amounted to $12.4 billion last year) and we're simply asking for a living wage and to be treated with dignity and respect."

Aramark employees with similar grievance protested in Dublin, Ireland earlier this month.

Uh, something isn't kosher here.

UNITE (formerly the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees) and HERE (Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union) merged on July 8, 2004 forming UNITE HERE. The union represents more than 450,000 active members and more than 400,000 retirees throughout North America. Unite Here is at the forefront of worker of the battle between Aramark and its workers.

The following is from WVIT (Connecticut).

New Haven To Hold Hearing Tuesday On School Lunches

NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- The battle over school lunches in New Haven continues Tuesday night and parents will have the opportunity to tell town officials what they think.

The board of alderman will hold a hearing at city hall Tuesday at 5:30 p.m.

Aramark has provided food to school in cafeterias across New Haven and some students and parents said they wanted that to end because they aren't happy with what's being served.

Dozens of protesters gathered on the steps of city hall in March to protest the company that supplies food to the schools.

The school district put out a new bid for food service contracts and three firms, including Aramark, submitted bids.

A committee has been appointed to look at those bids.

“They will come back to the board with a recommendation about what (they) think we should do in terms of awarding the contract or taking on the service in-house,” Brian Perkins of New Haven’s board of education said.

Parents will have the opportunity Tuesday night to voice either concern or praise for Aramark.

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