After a Twenty Year Campaign, Aramark and Privatization Shown the Door in Houston

New Orleans  It was a “pinch me” moment when the news finally broke that after United Labor Unions Local 100’s 20-year fight to get rid of Aramark as the food service subcontractor in the giant Houston Independent School District, they were finally being shown the door. The district was close lipped about its decision to not renew the $6 million contract with Aramark, but news reports were clear that the constant complaints and criticisms from food service workers was a critical factor.

Undoubtedly, the soaring cost of this privatization fiasco in Houston was also part of the problem. As the report indicated, there were few sweet nothings being whispered in anyone’s ears about this divorce. Aramark making sure that it left the district with as bad a taste in their mouths as the children they had been feeding, threw a rock through their own glass window dredging up a story from the last century alleging mismanagement of the district of the cafeteria operation. Their parting shot, we took as a relief, because it indicates that they know they won’t be back so they saw no risk in fouling the trough where they have gorged for decades.

Our members are celebrating because they paid for this contract with overwork and underpay, as the food service workforce was decimated in order to line Aramark’s pockets. Where individual schools had previously enjoyed a modicum of oversight and quality control, Aramark lopped off hundreds of jobs in order to establish a central kitchen that would deliver tens of thousands of meals to the individual schools. It’s not hard to imagine the daily problems of such a mammoth enterprise!

Local 100 was recently successful in winning an agreement from the HISD to raise the wages for food service workers, and more recently has been campaigning to win an increase in hours for their work in order to improve service and food delivery for the children. Another factor may be the level of lead found in many of the water fountains and kitchen faucets after Local 100 forced the district to begin a comprehensive testing program.

Recent studies by researchers from Massachusetts and Sweden found that outsourcing workers through privatization imposed a wage penalty of up to 7% for janitors and up to 24% for security guards. The same has been true for food services workers, though perhaps worse, because they often have had to endure split shifts and part-time work hours, often lucky to make six hours a day during the school year. The much-loved and iconic “lunch ladies” by children and parents have been starving and impoverished by Aramark for much of their careers.

Despite the horrors of privatization for the last several decades in Houston, the ideology of privatization more than the economics will continue to be at the heart of every campaign as businesses continue to search for profit by pretending that they are always more efficient and better at delivering public services than government, when their only real skill is reducing wages, hours, and workers and in food service, cheaper, low-quality food. At least in Houston we can enjoy the victory for a minute, but there’s still no cure for the plague.

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Please enjoy Pokey LaFarge’s Riot in the Streets.

Thanks to KABF.

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M&M’s for School Breakfast

P1010016Houston Listening to the reports in our all day, all union staff meeting in Houston, one caught my ear because at first couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Local 100 of the United Labor Unions has represented the bulk of the Houston support workers in the Houston Independent School District for over 18 years.  The last 8 we have been in a death match trying to get rid of Aramark and its anti-worker, anti-child policies.


But the facts are the facts, and several days ago we had publically announced that it was more nutritious for school children in Houston to eat a bag of M&M candies for breakfast that the eggs and biscuit concoction being served, assembly line style, by Aramark.  Startled I asked Alain Cisneros, our Houston lead organizer, and Orell Fitzsimmons, 100’s Field Director, who had done the research.  They chuckled.  Anyone could have done it.  Just look at the information on the package of M&M’s and the disclosure that Aramark was being forced to make on the school breakfast.


Sure enough!  The amount of “white death” or salt, as it is commonly know, in the eggs was amazing.  The cholesterol and calorie count both beat M&M’s by a mile.  Looking at the numbers, it was easy to see how parents could become as outraged as our members; this was just nasty, and as counter intuitive as it might seem, there really was no doubt.  Candy was not only quicker, it was healthier!


What does it take to fix something so obviously wrong?

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