Fall term, Portland State (PSU) bid farewell to long time food service provider Aramark to make room for PSU Eats—Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services’ localized dining brand— across campus. Returning students may have noticed renovations and a change in dining options at the Smith Memorial Student Union (SMSU) food court, now dubbed Smith’s Kitchen, a facelift at Branford’s Bean in the library, or perhaps a makeover at the resident dining hall, Victor’s.
These changes are all part of the package that comes with Chartwells’ ten year contract with Portland State, and there are more to come. Students can expect to see a new Versa Café in the Viking Pavilion when it opens this April, and Smith’s Place—once home to a Subway in SMSU—will make its debut in mid-January.
The renovations are being funded by a $12.6 million investment return written into Chartwells’ contract with PSU. About $10 million of the investment return, according to Michael Walsh, President of Housing and Residence Life at PSU, is made up of commissions and capital investment. Part of the capital investment involves a $2 million loan that PSU could use to build another resident dorm with a dining hall. For every dollar that Chartwells makes on campus, PSU receives 12.5 percent of it.
“The money is used to upgrade equipment and locations and keep things running. It’s money, but it doesn’t go to reduce costs of food or tuition,” Walsh said. This year, 909 students have meal plans at PSU, which is up from 871 last school year. This increase is caused by a rise in First Year Experience students at PSU, who are required to have a meal plan because they live on campus.
This year, Housing and Residence Life costs increased for students by 5 percent, which is up from the 2 to 3 percent usual increase of costs. “We may have to do it again this year,” Walsh said.
The investment that Chartwells—a subsidiary of British multinational company Compass Group—offered during the selection process last year is smaller than what Aramark was able to offer when the company tried for contract renewal, but that doesn’t seem to worry Walsh, who said that Chartwells was selected to take over the contract because it scored higher in areas like diversity, food offerings, and pricing. “I’ve been getting lots of great feedback [on Victor’s] from staff and students… students are for the most part just blown away by how good it is,” Walsh said.
“I don’t have as much experience in the food court in SMSU,” Walsh said, “Not hearing anything, I’m pretty happy. Sales seem to be up, which is good.”
Last term, however, a worker for the Chartwells company came forward with multiple complaints regarding the treatment of employees and the safety of food handling with PSU Eats. According to the employee, some cold meat products are being served at a temperature above the Oregon Health Department’s mandatory 41-degree Fahrenheit requirement for cold foods.
“We use the standard industry ‘time and temperature’ practices that minimizes any risk for foodborne illness. Above and beyond our standard Oregon satiation inspections, we have a third party company we use that does independent inspections of our facility,” stated Jason Boss, Resident District Manager of Chartwells for Compass Group.
The employee also alleged that many workers at Chartwells were not made aware their hours would be drastically cut over winter break this school year. Last term, Boss told The Pacific Sentinel that employees would have the opportunity to work at the Moda Center, also catered by Compass Group, to make up for lost hours. “We have had numerous employees work at both Intel and the Moda Center over the last couple of months and during the Thanksgiving and Winter breaks. We have a great relationship with both accounts and are proud to offer this benefit to our associates,” Boss stated in response to the claim. Employees have the ability to put their name on a sign-up sheet for this opportunity, according to Boss.
“If a person is promised something and doesn’t get it, that’s frustrating and disappointing. I don’t think it’s necessarily the end of the world,” Walsh said. This employment opportunity is not listed in the contract, but according to the employee, they were not the only one unaware of the impending month-long break.“Compass Group is gigantic worldwide. Someone is going to say something about them.”
Compass Group, Chartwells’ parent company, has made splashes in the news in the past for several allegations regarding labor, food prices, and food safety. In 2012, Compass Group USA was sued for $18 million with the State of New York for overcharging on school meals.
In 2015, Compass Group USA made national headlines when its employees at the U.S Senate Kitchen in Washington, D.C. joined a walkout in protest of employee underpayment. Compass Group USA did not comment on the demands or complaints of their workers, but did say their offered wages were within compliance of their contract.
“If an employee has complaints, they can come see me if they wanted to. I could probably help, certainly, I could listen. I have influence,” Walsh said in response to the information provided by the PSU Eats employee.
This article originally appeared in the print edition of our January 2018, issue.