Posted March 13, 2014 by Cooper Point Journal in Letters & Opinion

The Hand That Feeds

An Investigation into the Aramark Corporation




Illustration by RUBY THOMPSON

Who exactly is Aramark, the multinational corporation that holds a nearly exclusive dining services contract on The Evergreen State College’s campus? For those not in the know, this company is based out of the Aramark Tower in Philadelphia and possesses a multi-billion dollar empire spanning 22 countries and thousands of clients.

These clients range from businesses, universities, schools, sports and entertainment venues, as well as prisons and the U.S. military. This organization provides food management, laundry and uniform distribution, and a variety of other logistical services for their customers. But who is this hand that feeds us? How does this hand conduct itself in its affairs? With character and morality? With despotism and indifference to humane and civil rights? A thorough examination of Aramark’s history and behavior may provide that answer.

Aramark has been in control of Evergreen’s campus dining services since 2004 when, despite large efforts by many students on campus to initiate a self-operated system, the college decided to put the contract up for the highest (and only) bidder – Aramark.

Since that time, Aramark has been making generous donations to the administration including funds for renovation projects such as $175,000 for the Greenery and $16,000 for rebuilding greenhouses damaged in the winter storm of 2006. The corporation has recently extended its contract with Evergreen State College in 2013 for nine more years.

Aramark has received much criticism for their practices across a wide spectrum of their services. According to the “Chronicle of Higher Education”, the President of Tennessee State University, James A. Hefner, was accused in 2001 of improperly accepting gifts from Aramark Corporation in the form of Super Bowl tickets, amounting to $5,000.

“The Chronicle of Higher Education” also cited a similar situation in which the University of Central Arkansas’ President Allen C. Meadors was offered $700,000 to renovate his personal residence as a term attached to a 7-year renewal agreement of Aramark’s contract with the university. Upon revelation of this fact, the contract was renegotiated.

KOMO News reported that  an attempt at unionization by Aramark’s workers at Western Washington University was met with an letter mailed by Aramark’s Regional Director Stephen Wadsworth. The letter stated “a union can also cost you your job… employees who go on strike can be permanently replaced.” The unionization proceeded despite the letter.

Many lawsuits have been filed against Aramark, ranging from wage-and-hour class claims to civil rights. In the 2013 case of Morazan v. Aramark Uniform Services Inc. et al, a settlement amounting to $2.75 million was reached for charges concerning incorrect payment to employees. The “Las Vegas Sun” reports a 22-count complaint against Aramark Uniform Services Inc. seeking unspecified compensation and damages along with legal fees for being subjected to racial slurs and age-related harassment.

Attorneys Diane Villaincourt and Terri Keyser-Cooper were responsible for filing the lawsuit and stated that one of their clients was told to find any reason to fire a fellow employee or risk losing their job. According to “The East Carolinian,” Aramark employee Lezlie Sumpter was fired after publicly speaking out against sexual harassment perpetrated by male supervisors who received no punishment for their actions.

Aramark has also come under fire for their involvement with unsanitary and unhealthy food conditions in prisons. “TruthDig” reported a situation in which a prison food contract went to Aramark, and almost immediately, officers began bringing their own food to work. Prisoners who worked in the kitchen conveyed a situation of mice feces and moldy food in the kitchen, and rampant outbreaks of diarrhea and vomiting following the change in management.

One prisoner employee reported that, “If we put more than the required portion on the tray the Aramark people would make us take it off. It wasn’t civilized. I lost 30 pounds. I would wake up at night and put toothpaste in my mouth to get rid of the hunger urge… It was especially bad for the diabetics, and there are a lot of diabetics behind bars.” The same article made the assertion that Eric J. Foss, the chief executive officer and president of Aramark Corp. raked in $8,055,495 in total compensation for 2012.

Although Aramark is currently charging between $2,700 to $4,000 for mandatory meal plans per year at Evergreen, they have fallen short of projected profits by about $200,000 to $300,000 annually, according to the Campus Food Coalition student group. It is interesting to note that according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a single American adult can expect to pay about $3,300 for groceries annually.

Not accounting for discounts normally associated with bulk food purchasing, the current freshman class of 509 students, charged up to $4,000 annually for food services, pay for 105 full-time employees at the Washington minimum wage for an entire year.

Considering the fact these numbers do not account for upper-classmen consumption as well as branch food services such as the very popular specialized cuisine at The Marketplace and Einstein Bagels, could it be that Aramark’s losses are simply a matter of poor resource management and inefficiency?

So what is the alternative? Sweat and toil? Sacrifices made among the majority? Perhaps it is simply a matter of a change in management. Students have shown they are capable of handling business in cases of The Flaming Eggplant.

Conceivably there is opportunity for Evergreen students to showcase the same level of competency on a larger scale across the entire campus, or to simply have a greater degree of choice when it comes to deciding who exactly is responsible for campus nutrition.

Would a congruency with Evergreen morals, ethics, and ideology attract more consumers and capital to campus dining? Can health and sustainability overcome the corporate mindset of bottom lines and mass production? Only time will tell. Perhaps the hand that feeds is feeding us ill. Perhaps the only thing missing is our will.