Aramark has a long history of battles with organized labor.
It has clashed repeatedly with UNITE-HERE, a union of hotel, food service and gaming workers. The union has staged protests at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, rallying in support of higher wages and access to health care benefits.
The union has also joined with students at colleges, including Pennsylvania State University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to press for better pay and benefits for campus food service workers.
Aramark’s business is part of a decades-old trend to save taxpayers money by hiring private companies to manage school cafeterias, run buses, and oversee other functions such as building and ground maintenance once handled by public employees.
That has been costly to workers, said Janice Fine, a Rutgers University assistant professor of labor studies who has studied outsourcing.
The evidence is incontrovertible that the jobs went from being good full-time blue-collar jobs to being lower paying part-time jobs, often with minimal or no benefits, Fine said.
That’s what happened to Carol Sanders when Aramark took over in New Orleans’ public schools in 2010.
Sanders, 52, began working for the Orleans Parish school board in 1982. She raised three children and purchased a home on her cook’s pay. She had medical benefits, paid days off and was making $15 an hour when Aramark was hired to run food service for the Recovery School District, which took over Orleans Parish schools after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
One of the company’s owners received a $100 million investment from the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana, the pension system Sanders paid into.
Aramark cut Sanders’ time on the job in half, to 20 hours a week, leaving her working split shifts – two hours in the morning and two more in the early afternoon, five days a week. Her pay dropped to $9 an hour. She went without medical insurance and began drawing $200 a month in food stamps.
Thomas Sueta, an Aramark spokesman, declined to comment.
In Baton Rouge, the state capital, Phil Griffith, the chief investment officer of the Teachers’ Retirement System of Louisiana, said pension managers focus on profit.
We manage it for return and for our own constituents. We don’t get into, Does that mean it lays off public workers?’