Food Contract with Aramark Defended, Criticized at Town Hallcsudhbulletin October 7, 2022 0 COMMENTS
By Maya Garibay-Sahm, News Editor
The university has a $20 million dining hall in the early stages of development and a new dining services partner to handle it. And that company, Aramark, was the focus of a town hall last week that showed that even if the deal is finalized, there are some Toros who are not happy about the university contracting with a company that is responsible for feeding approximately 38 percent of the country’s prison population.
“How is school for the people when you’re partnering with people who lock people like us up?” asked junior Jaelin (Eli) Fowler, a member of the Black Student Union “It does feel like y’all sold us out. It feels like y’all traded us for money.”
The university signed a $10 million, 10-year campus dining partnership with Aramark that began July 1, 2022. Aramark is one of the top three global leaders in providing food, facilities and uniforms to clients ranging from sports venues and hospitals to universities, K-12 school districts and prisons.
CSUDH’s partnership with Aramark is “ designed to establish a strategic business, marketing, and philanthropic alliance that will benefit the entire CSUDH community,” Deborah Wallace, CSUDH’s vice president of administration and finance/chief financial officer, said in a July 20 announcement. “It opens the door to capital improvements in food service facilities across the campus, including the convenience stores located in Welch Hall and the Social and Behavioral Sciences building.”
$12 Billion Company
According to its annual filing with the U.S. Securities Exchange Commission, Aramark grossed more than $12 billion worldwide in 2020. On the website of Food Management, www.foodmanagement.com, Aramark grossed an estimated $1.08 billion through its college and university contracts.
Aramark controversies at Universities and Prisons
But it has also been embroiled in controversies on many campuses, ranging from substandard working conditions and poor wages for student employees, to poor food quality at some universities. A national group that leads campus-based efforts to organize against corporate food providers at universities claims its efforts to get colleges to divest from Aramark have been reinvigorated since the social justice protests that swept the country in 2020.
According to its website, Aramark’s Frontline Education program offers eligible employees free undergraduate tuition through Arizona State University’s online program.
About 12 percent of Aramark’s business, according to the American Friends of Service Committee, comes from providing food to about 38 percent of U.S. prison inmates. Aramark has also come under fire for its contracting with prisons and jails. In 2020, students at Auburn University formed Tigers against Aramark, which claimed that through its work with prisons the company was “supporting the prison system which disproportionately affects Black people, Indigenous people and people of color (BIPOC).”
The CSUDH Black Student Union was well represented at the town hall (an Instagram link with clips of BSU members voicing their displeasure with the agreement, along with other CSUDH students has 1,788 likes, and can be found here.)
Another BSU member, Brandon Blackmon, stated, “it makes us as students feel that we are not cared for as humans, we’re cared for as ways to make money.”
In a statement issued Wednesday, a CSUDH official spokesperson said that Aramark “had the most thorough and competitive proposal based on the scoring metrics. The committee recommended Aramark to the president’s cabinet. With the cabinet’s approval, it was advanced to President Parham, who accepted the bid.
“President Parham and his cabinet were aware of Aramark’s relationship to prison facilities, though this was not part of the RFP judging criteria. The president recognizes that Aramark has made a commitment to address recidivism—a goal which the president and his cabinet wholeheartedly support.”
Details of CSUDH Contract
In the minutes of a CSUDH Foundation Board of Directors in April, when President Parham said the university had received $60 million from the state and that $20 million was earmarked for a new dining hall projected to open in spring 2026, the Foundation’s Executive Director Tranitra Avery detailed some parameters of the Aramark partnership, which was pending at the time, including:
It would be a 10-year agreement projected to bring in more than $30 million over its term, including commissions, capital improvements into the university, and employment opportunities for students.
The university would receive a signing bonus once the agreement was finalized, along with capital improvements as much as $5 million within the first two years.
In a June meeting of the Foundation’s Board, Provost Michael Spagna said that with the salary increases for faculty, the university might not be able to meet its financial commitments without cutting back elsewhere. As a result, he said, the university would need to rely more heavily on income from its auxiliary services.
Auxiliary services at public universities are revenue-generating streams that are not contingent on state budgeting, such as student housing, dining services, campus bookstores and vending machines. At CSUDH, the entity that oversees some auxiliary services, including dining, the infant and toddler development center, and filming on campus, is the CSUDH Foundation, a non-profit organization.
According to its website, the Foundation was “incorporated in 1968 as a partner of the University to provide services and develop and enhance programs that are an integral part of the University’s educational mission.”
Despite vocal opposition from some students at the Town Hall, Aramark is hiring in Carson, California. Since the day before Monday’s town hall, Aramark has posted eight job types in the city, ranging from retail supervisor to peer-to-peer student worker, on its website.