Aramark preys on Detroit schools, union, pols say

School predators don’t always appear as shadowy figures lurking on the fringes of playgrounds. Sometimes they come in brightly lit corporate offices wearing three-piece suits.

Detroit area union officials and politicians charge that Aramark Corp., the Philadelphia-based company that bills itself “a global leader in professional services,” is preying on Detroit public school system students.

According to figures compiled by the Unite Here union, Aramark has broken its promises to turn over to the school district revenues from the lucrative public school food service program. Activists from several unions protested the situation on Jan. 18, at a rally in frigid weather in Detroit’s New Center.

In the 2000-2001 school year, the food service program generated $4.5 million for the district, according to Unite Here. Since Aramark took over the following year, total revenues for the district has not reached that level.

When Aramark took over in 2002, the union reports, it promised to bring in more than $25 million for the cash-strapped district’s general fund over the course of the five-year contract. Unite Here says that Aramark turned over only $1.4 million and the company never once brought in more revenue than the district had generated when it managed food services in-house. And over the course of the contract, Aramark was paid $6.6 million in management fees.

Despite all of this, Aramark’s contract with Detroit Public Schools was renewed in 2006.

Unite Here reports that Aramark has a track record of shabby performance. It was fired two years into its five-year contract in Philadelphia and it was the subject of state probe in Houston for not keeping an accurate count of free meals to district students. Taxpayers ended up shelling out $200,000 penalty in that case.

Phil Schloop, vice president of the International Union of Operating Engineers and business manager of Local 547 said it is a matter of accountability

“It's time for real answers from Aramark,” he said. “Aramark has literally taken millions from our schools. It’s time we take our money back.”

State Senator Irma Clarke-Coleman, who also spoke at the rally, said the school district desperately needs the money to buy supplies and fund programs for students.

“I’ve always been for the children,” she said. “I want the money to go to the children.”

To learn more about Aramark’s record, go to .

Tom Schram is a Detroit-based labor journalist.