Photos by Keila MacPherson
Trent University’s food service is currently suffering from many changes and uncertainties that have been implemented since the new foodservice provider, Chartwells, took over last May.
Of all the changes that Chartwells has made, the most notable have been to the hours of operation of food available, which has radically changed the positions and working hours of the employees.
According to multiple interviews with foodservice staff members, this has hampered the overall quality of the food service operation at Trent.
“Chartwells is not respecting the collective agreement for the most part,” said one member of the staff, who spoke only under the condition of anonymity. “Management has way too much on its plate and they are in over their heads. Most managers are chaotic and there are few who actually know what they are doing.”
“They are breaking the law, every day, every time, and all day long,” said another, who similarly requested to have their name withheld. “It is like we are nothing.”
At the core of the problem is a widespread feeling that Chartwells management is not capable of managing the operations at Trent, and in this respect some staff members pointed to issues with Food Services Director Edward Rama, who was retained by Chartwells when they took over operations from Aramark.
One staff member explained that there have been many mistakes made under his direction, including catering functions missed all throughout the university because of the lack of communication between him and the catering manager.
“Everyday there is something different that they cannot get right. It is just chaotic,” lamented the staff member. “We feel very uncertain and job security is scary, especially given the fact that they are not respecting our collective agreement.”
According to Judy Gates, president of CUPE 3205, the union that represents Trent foodservice workers, the situation has deteriorated since the beginning of the school year when the Foodservice Committee took away a number of important services including the popular Rez-Express late-night delivery service, which previously kept staff busy at night, especially during the exam periods.
“It doesn’t make sense,” said Gates. “The food committee didn’t make their final decision until recently and all of a sudden our hours are cut. My hours just got cut by ten and that is a lot of money. It means that the foodservice is in turmoil again.”
Gates also noted that the university has refused to stand up for the workers. “When the transition [from Aramark to Chartwells] started I had an interview with Associate Vice President Students Nona Robinson and she said it would be seamless and very few changes, but that didn’t happen,” said Gates.
She added, “Anytime we have reached out since, the university hasn’t supported us at all. They don’t want to hear it because they say it is between us and Chartwells.”
Similarly, the union’s Vice President said: “Our hands are tied, we can only offer suggestions. I just hope that the kids can be patient with us and understand that we are here for them, at this point we are here only because of them.”
While the staff may be bearing the brunt of these cutbacks, students are also feeling the effects.
“In terms of the food services, staff fall behind and feel rushed; as a result they make mistakes,” said second year Media Studies and Journalism student Stelios Pappas.
“The worst thing is if you are in a line up at 12 o’clock you will not be able to get out for 40 minutes. So students can’t enjoy their meals since they have to rush to class. You can frequently walk by and see half finished meals.”
Trent Central Student Association President Braden Freer is well aware of students’ concern and said that they trace back to the new management.
“It would have been understandable if there were just a few issues at start, but now its nearing end of November and there are still some glaring issues,” he said.
Freer cited issues of service and machine reliability, as well as limited hours of operation, and long line-ups as being the most notable problems with the new foodservice provider.
“I go to Tim Horton’s on campus not because I necessarily enjoy the coffee, but because of the staff,” he said. “Now, to hear the staffs make comments of dissatisfaction to each other is frustrating.”
The representative of the university administration, Associate Vice President Student Nona Robinson, said that there have been many changes to food services at Trent and that Chartwells is still adjusting.
One of the biggest changes is the move to a “retail model” of foodservice where students pay for what they eat, she explained. This means that Chartwells has to make enough in sales to cover their expenses, rather than relying on guaranteed income from meal plans.
According to Gates, CUPE 3205 just had a meeting with the Compass hierarchy and they said that “it is not working here but it works at other universities.”
Saira Husain, Manager of Corporate Communications of Compass Group, justified the recent changes by saying that they understand that food cost is an important issue for students and that they are proactively looking for solutions to ensure that their foodservice operations remain viable.
Meanwhile, there are currently 25 grievances against Chartwells.