BY JESSICA CORSI
Change could be coming to the law school dining services as early as June 2008. After ten years of a contract with Sodexo as HLS’s sole food and (for the past few years) alcohol vendor, the HLS administration decided to solicit bids from other companies. Currently, only two vendors, Sodexo and Compass Group’s Restaurant Associates, have bid for the contract. After ten years without a thorough review of the Sodexo contract, this is the perfect opportunity for both students and food service and catering employees to communicate with the administration about how they want these services administered, the type of company they want administering them, and the role they would like to play in the contracting and contract oversight and reviews processes.
This bid process has opened up a space for students and workers to shape dining and catering services specifically and HLS business practices more generally. Notable regarding HLS’s business practices is that dining service and catering employees have been strikingly absent from the vendor review process. While student involvement is coming late, the HLS administration has yet to reach out to current Sodexo employees. Of primary concern is that no one loses his or her job. Full job security is something that only the HLS administration can guarantee. The contract with the new food service employer must mandate the full and automatic re-hire of all current employees. The fact that HLS could choose another vendor to replace Sodexo could cause stress and anxiety among the workers, who might understandably fear losing their jobs. The HLS administration must reach out to employees and guarantee that those that wish to retain their jobs will be allowed to do so. Additionally, new mechanisms should be put into place that will bring the contract employees closer to the HLS administration. Sodexo has its own employee feedback process, but this cannot replace the HLS administration’s responsibility to all employees on its campus, regardless of their status as direct or contract employees. This review process presents the perfect opportunity for HLS to review its relationship to its contractor employees and to solicit direct employee feedback on how the employment process has been to date.
There are steps the selection committee can take to guarantee that no one loses her or his job and to ensure fair labor practices. First, the selection committee should ensure that all Sodexo employees would continue to be employed on campus, regardless of which vendor wins the bid.
This requires oversight by the HLS administration so that the vendor cannot use the re-hiring process or its own discretion to change workers’ hours or otherwise de facto eliminate workers’ positions. The selection committee should ask Sodexo and Compass to agree to card check neutrality at HLS so that workers can decide whether or not to form a union free from employer coercion. The selection committee should also include a clause in the contract that at the contract’s termination employees will be guaranteed continued employment on campus, either through a replacement vendor or at another Harvard location. There should be annual reviews of the vendor, and students should take part in these reviews. Worker feedback provided directly to HLS, not to the vendor, should be included in the review process.
Currently we have an opportunity to shape not only our daily food experiences at HLS but also the entire food services contract. Student voices must be given a place at the table. In the immediate future, students should be involved in the vendor selection process so that the outcome reflects student body values. We, as students, are the primary consumers of food services at HLS and the largest group to interact with the food vendor; as such we should be able to insert our own concerns. As diverse as the student body is, our concerns will likely be just as varied, but the point is, they should be heard and they should be given a leading role in the contracting process. Whether our primary concern is just and stable employment for food service workers; a space at the Hark to organize meals without being forced to use the vendor’s catering services; the alcohol policy; environmental practices; affordable food for student groups; or the business ethics of the company we choose as a vendor, we should take our concerns directly to the HLS administration.
Students, workers, and administrators will have different and sometimes divergent opinions. Our different perspectives stemming from our different positions within HLS and our varied relationships to the vendors on campus are exactly why students and workers alike should be given important roles in HLS contracting.
Jessica Corsi is a 2L.