On July 1, 2023, the University of Maine will officially join the rest of the University of Maine System in a partnership with Sodexo for campus dining and catering services. There has been considerable discussion among students, faculty and staff following a press release from Nov. 16, 2022 that announced an eight-year partnership with the controversial France-based food company.
Currently, there are 91 employees and 21 management staff working across the UMaine campus with dining services. While the dining management has already transitioned their contracts under Sodexo, full-time staff and student workers are still employed with UMaine. The terms of a final agreement between Sodexo and UMaine will be settled this spring.
Ashwini Kreigh-McNeal, a fourth-year food science student and student employee at York Dining, gave her perspective on the dining provider transition and its implications for staff.
“No one is really happy about the switch, especially since Sodexo does not have a good reputation, both in regard to their food or how they treat their workers. So far, the recipes aren’t really better or worse than what the university made. Some of the food safety protocols are better and more thorough,” Kreigh-McNeal stated. “Overall, the attitude among the student workers is mixed; the full-time staff is very unhappy, and the management seems to have gotten a sweet deal and seems to be happy.”
Maine Campus Media spoke with Sodexo Resident District Manager Tadd Stone and Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Richard Young about the partnership, the future of dining at UMaine and taking care of dining employees.
“First off, I’d like to acknowledge that UMaine Dining was running a very good program prior to the partnership, so what we were hoping to bring in is [going] to complement their services to the next point. We have some capital that we can instill. We have technology that we can instill,” Stone said.
Sodexo will provide UMaine with a $3 million signing bonus and a $7 million facility investment. A recent Maine Campus Media article outlines specific plans for dining hall renovations, expansion of menu options and the implementation of new, cutting-edge technology. Stone hopes the facility renovations will meet on-campus and off-campus students’ needs.
Stone also discussed the detrimental effects the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the service industry. Most notably, he explained that dining services nationwide are struggling with a lack of workers. Ideally, Stone stated that they would like to employ between 300 to 400 student employees in the dining halls.
“We’re looking for different, creative ways that we can drive student employment back with the program, whether that’s working with the International Office, internships, the Food Innovation Lab and looking for different ways that we can try to at least double the workforce that we have for students right now,” Stone explained.
While improvements to dining facilities are an exciting endeavor, many UMaine community members have expressed concern for Sodexo’s treatment of its workers. The 91 dining employees who are represented by the Service and Maintenance Teamsters Union Local 340 workers’ union can negotiate paid time off, sick leave and other benefits at the bargaining table with the dining administration.
“They’re impact bargaining right now, and impact bargaining is what the university and the union [are] going to negotiate for a deal,” Young said. Impact bargaining is the negotiation between a union and a school board’s educational policy decision when considering working conditions. Young explained that after negotiations with the university, workers will bargain with Sodexo separately.
“While under Maine law a school board’s educational policy decision is not negotiable, the impact of that decision on employee working conditions may be a mandatory subject of collective bargaining, depending on the circumstances,” the Drummond Woodsum & MacMahon website stated.
Many full-time dining hall employees declined to comment on the situation.
“Only time will tell if Sodexo lives up to its reputation or does better,” Kreigh-McNeal said.
Students can anonymously give dining administration feedback by texting “umainediningvision” to 82257. In addition, students may participate in the Community Culinary Council, a group of students and dining staff that share feedback and ideas and test menu options. The final meeting of the semester will be held in Bear’s Den Pub on April 13 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m.