Cafeteria Evaluates Employment Options

Enrica Nicoli Aldini, Staff Writer

Love it or hate it, the Dickinson College Cafeteria has been keeping Dickinson College and its students fed since it first opened its doors. To keep the food rolling, Dining Services has maintained a staff of student workers, colloquially known as Red Shirts and Blue Shirts.

With the college currently looking over the possibility of outsourcing these jobs in the near future, however, some students are taking steps to keep their friends and classmates employed.

Aurora Wetherill ’15 has been planning to start a petition in order to convince the college that in-house dining services is the best option for the campus community.

“When I first heard this rumor, shortly before the end of Fall [2012] semester, I was outraged,” said Wetherill. “Based on what I heard from other schools, outsourcing implies poor service, poor treatment of employees and unhealthy food. It’s miserable.”

At the end of last semester, Wetherill started a Facebook group to spread the word among Dickinsonians. According to Wetherill, everyone she reached out to was outraged and saddened by the potential change in the college’s dining services.

The truth is, however, that no decision has been made yet regarding this matter, according to Associate Vice President for Financial Operations and Auxiliary Services Stephen Hietsch.

“The college is currently conducting a comprehensive evaluation of its dining services,” he said. “The goal of this exercise is to create the best Dining Services possible for our students. The evaluation of outsourcing options is merely one component of this overall evaluation. And the college will only consider outsourcing if there is strong evidence that a dining vendor can deliver better services to the college and its students than we feel we are capable of delivering ourselves.”

Hietsch said the plan to explore the possibility of outsourcing is included in the “Human and Financial Resources” section of the college’s currently Strategic Plan, under Strategic Goal D, Objective 3. Among the reasons for outsourcing, the plan mentions are cost reduction and service enhancement.

“Some of the ways in which a vendor might achieve cost savings would be by using their purchasing power to negotiate lower costs for food, or by managing the operation more efficiently,” explained Hietsch. “However, when you are working with a contractor, it is not a certainty that costs will be less.”

Hietsch said that even if they found that Dickinson could save money by outsourcing dining, cost is not the only factor that will be used to make this decision.

“Our goal is to have the best dining services we can, not the least expensive dining services we can,” he said.

According to Wetherill, a blue shirt told her that several companies have been touring the cafeteria for the past year and a half year. “I believed it’s not incidental that the timeline coincides with President Durden’s announcement of his retirement,” she said.

One of the consequences of outsourcing that most scares Wetherill is the cafeteria’s ability to accommodate everybody’s dietary needs. According to Hietsch this is one of the most important advantages of in-house services.

“While contractors say they will work to accommodate your needs, the reality is that there must be limits to what they will do,” he said. “Otherwise, they would jeopardize the profit margin, which is necessary to make the contract a viable business venture.”

As far as current employees of Dining Services are concerned, Hietsch said that in case Dickinson went for the outsourcing option, it could stipulate that existing employees maintain their current salaries and benefits.

“The requirement that contractors hire existing employees is frequently part of the agreement,” he said. “There are contractors who make heavy use of student workers in their operations. We recognize the importance of dining services jobs to our students. And the contractors’ policies toward student workers would be a factor in the evaluation of their services.”

Hietsch said that they hope to have an evaluation complete and a recommendation in place by July 7. In the meantime, Wetherill is outlining a plan of action.

“I personally want to write a letter outline where everybody can write what they love most about the Caf, and set up a table in the HUB,” she said. “I want people to understand that no matter how we often bitch about the Caf, we all ultimately love it and we don’t want to deal with the negative consequences of outsourcing.”