By Kyle Francis
If you’re holding this paper in your hands, odds are you’ve been inside the franchise fiasco that is the MacEwan Students center. Every day, people eat, study, meet up with friends and engage in a multitude of other activities in MSC without really appreciating the intricate political clockwork that manages the delicate human resources of the food court.
Currently, the Food Services branch of the university is staffed by Alberta Union of Provincial Employees Local 52, but recent rumblings and rumors have suggested this may soon change. It seems that the university has opened the floor for private businesses to operate some food court vendors. Organizations such as Sodexho, Aramark, Chart Wells and even the Students’ Union may place a bid for control of the food court in MSC. Albi Sole, the Chair of Local 52 insists that contracting out Food Services of MSC won’t save the university any money.
“There is a popular prejudice that unionized labor is going to be more expensive, but it is simply that: prejudice,” stated Sole. “It’s entirely possible for a private contractor to come up with a deal that, on the surface, looks like they can do the same job for cheaper. Then they sign off on the dotted line and in the end it turns out that the private contractor does not provide a comparable service, and it ends up costing the school more in ways that you may not expect–It’s just a lot of sizzle with no steak.”
Many testimonials of other places where companies like Sodexho have come in and taken over their unionized Food Services have indicated an overall increase in the quality of food and a drop in prices. However, Sole insists that the effect of privatizing the Food Services on the student body would be far reaching and unpredictable.
“Certainly food quality will continue to go up,” said Sole. “One thing we need to do is upgrade our food handling and equipment. That’s going to be done whether this stays in house or goes out of house [but] nobody can do the upgrades cheaper than the university. Since we’re backed by the government and have an impeccable credit rating, there’s no way a private company can make the necessary upgrades cheaper than us. And if you drop the cost of food, then Food Services has less money to put into central administration, which gives us less money for something like, say: professors.”
If the Food Services do end up going up for auction, it’s very likely that one of the big dogs like the aforementioned Food Services corporations will end up with the contract, but the off chance that the SU would be able to get a hold on part of the food court makes for an interesting contingency. SU President Bryan West commented on the SU’s possible bid for a portion of the food court, and what it would mean for students if they obtained it.
“The SU is not in a position nor is it big enough to take on Food Services, Food Services is massive. There are parts of Food Services where, if the opportunity was available to us we would be interested in them.
“If you look at our owned and operated businesses, such as The Den, the StÃ¶r and Bound and Copied, those sort of places do good business, but they also set good prices,” he added. “We always try to make our businesses a service to the students. That usually means cheaper prices, and that we’re more responsive to what students want.”
The hands in which Food Services will inevitably lie still remains to be seen, but you can definitely expect to see some changes in the way Food Services is run as the auction debate heats up during the coming months. No matter what happens, the clockwork that is the food court will still continue to steadily tick away, the students working there will remain employed, and you’ll still be able to get a taco for a buck on Tuesday.