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Students advocate for reform in dining services

UPDATED: 2/9 9:25 p.m.

Brandeis Uprooted and Rising, a movement focused on the future of sustainability and nourishment of future generations by demanding food sovereignty, hosted a gathering outside of Sherman Function Hall on Sunday, Feb. 2, campaigning for self-operated Brandeis dining, according to its Instagram page. The group advocated for reform within the dining services provided by Brandeis, but did not want to call its gathering a protest. 

“We are not calling the gathering on Sunday a ‘protest,’ it was really just a celebration of sustainable food and community,” said a representative of the campaign, Arthi Jacob ’21, in an email to The Brandeis Hoot.

Uprooted and Rising is one of two campaigns—the other being a worker-retention campaign—focused specifically on keeping all current dining service workers after any changes that may occur in the midst of dining contract renegotiations. “Uprooted and Rising supports and promotes the worker retention campaign and worker recognition is one of our demands,” said Jacob in an interview with The Hoot. 

At the end of last semester, Uprooted and Rising sent a mass email to a “variety of Brandeis administrators” through which it sent its “demands and concerns regarding further outsourced dining,” according to Jacob. 

The email consisted of demands such as “more affordable and locally sourced groceries for students in the Hoot-Market, better wages, hours and benefits for our [Brandeis’] dining service workers,” as well as demanding “the option for students to opt out of buying a meal plan, even when living on campus.”

“We [Uprooted and Rising] got a response to this email from Lois Stanley two and a half weeks into Winter break that dismissed all of our demands and lied about Brandeis’ capacity to fulfill the demands,” said Jacob. “The email we received backstates that we [Brandeis] lack the ‘infrastructure’ to have a self-operated dining service.”

In an open forum in October, Ted Mayer, project lead consultant and president of TM Consulting Group LLC, supported Stanley’s statement saying that reinstating Brandeis’ internal dining hall system would be difficult with Brandeis’ current standing, and would not be a “prudent undertaking.”

Jacob said that “President Ron Liebowitz makes over $900,000 per year” and that the money “going to his heavy, heavy pockets” could be allocated toward a change in dining services. 

According to an article in The Middlebury Campus, “Liebowitz’s compensation… in fiscal year 2007 was $514,012.” According to Business Insider, in 2016, other university presidents in the Greater Boston Area such as President of Boston University Robert A. Brown and President of Simmons College Helen G. Drinan earned a total of $1,672,442 and $1,656,654, respectively. 

Worker retention was, said Jacob, “the only demand substantially addressed in the email we [Uprooted and Rising] received in December.” Jacob stated the language in the request for proposals “does not guarantee that workers’ jobs will be respected and retained in this transition.”

In an earlier Hoot article, Ted Mayer was quoted saying, “Food service companies don’t have this stable of people—it’s not like they bring over a bus load of people and they take over and everyone’s out of a job. They genuinely, and actually I can’t think of a situation where they haven’t, take on the employees.” According to Dining Committee Chair Nancy Zhai ’22, it has been confirmed that all unionized workers will retain their jobs.

Jacob also addressed environmental concerns the campaign has with companies such as Sodexo. “We know that these companies buy a significant amount of their meat from Tyson Food, which sources its meat from companies in Brazil, where the Amazon rainforest and the Earth’s vital ecosystems are burning directly as a result of the cattle ranching industry.”

Uprooted and Rising is having another event today, Friday, Feb. 7, at 2 p.m. in Pearlman Hall.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that in the RFP, the new vendor will retain unionized workers. The RFP says that the new vendor is expected to retain unionized workers.

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