Xavier A. Torres de Janon
Those who have visited the Bridge in the last couple weeks have probably noticed the petition by the cash register with the dramatic title “SAVE US!” This seems to be a semi-regular occurrence, at least in the Bon Appétit age. But this time, their grievance is not with Bon Appétit, but with its impending divorce from Hampshire College, which was announced to students on February 22nd in an email from Mary McEneany, Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer. “Costs are on the rise, local sourcing is declining and billing and invoicing issues continue to get more attention than the food program itself. We have also been looking for opportunities to respond to frequent complaints regarding low quality and a lack of concern for healthy local food,” she wrote, explaining the decision. Furthermore, Hampshire is under a “Cost-Plus Contract.” Under this “contract,” Hampshire is to refund all of Bon Appétit’s expenses, plus 5%. This means that Bon Appétit can spend as much as it sees fit and expect Hampshire to cover it all (in fact, it has been reported that Hampshire farm foods have gone straight from the fields to the garbage, mainly due to storage unavailability, but always to the cost of the school). Food costs at Hampshire have tripled since former caterer Sodexo left, from about one million to more than three million dollars a year—in simple terms, switching vendors could save the college a significant amount of money. Additionally, many older students and alumni might remember the infinite promises Bon Appétit made as part of the food provider selection process; none of these were fulfilled because an actual contract was never signed between our school and the corporation, the latter sending Hampshire College a management staff of questionable expertise.
While many won’t be sad to see Bon Appétit go, this state of affairs presents a precarious situation for workers. When Hampshire transitioned to Bon Appétit three years ago, it was with the assurance that the people who worked at the Bridge and the Dining Commons would be able to keep their jobs. But now, says Jake Burke of Hampshire Food Advocates, as Hampshire tries to make the proposal attractive to small, local businesses, there is no such protection (although some students have suggested that the college cover the cost of extra wages with the money saved from the new contract). Those with seniority at the Bridge will have the option to switch to the Dining Commons, although that would simply kick the can down to a current Dining Commons worker. Those without seniority or who don’t want to transfer will have to reapply for their jobs with the new company, and if they get them, will be back on a starting salary. Additionally, they will likely lose their union benefits, and administration is looking into expanding student worker positions over full time employees. The food provider for the R. W. Kern Center (to begin operating April 2016) will be the same one for the Bridge (to take over Bon Appétit Fall 2016).
Some of us might remember a couple of years ago when there were events in the Merrill Quad supporting Dining Commons workers’ right to unionize. That union was negotiated only with Bon Appétit and is only for employees of Bon Appétit working at Hampshire College, although, to the benefit of the the food provider, the latter party was not involved in the negotiation processes. The incoming vendor and Hampshire will have no obligation to honor union agreements.
But as Bon Appétit is phased out—it is projected that they will be leaving the Dining Commons in Fall of 2017—what happens at the Bridge could set a precedent for Dining Commons workers in the future. The excitement and energy with which we welcomed Bon Appétit three years ago is all but gone.