OAKLAND, Calif. – UNITE HERE union members gathered across from Alameda County’s Glenn Dyer Detention Facility Feb. 19 to demand that the county put its contract for food services at county jail facilities out to bid, rather than rubber-stamping a five-year extension of its contract with Aramark Correctional Services.

Union leaders and Aramark workers pointed to the international corporation’s dismal record in fulfilling food service contracts with correctional facilities and schools elsewhere in the country, citing problems including quality of food and provision of “phantom” meals.

The rally was keynoted by Bruce Raynor, UNITE HERE general president. “This company, whether it’s in dining halls, in stadiums, does two things from one end of North America to the other, they abuse their workers and they abuse their clients,” Raynor told the crowd.

Among rally participants were members of UNITE HERE Locals 2, 2850, 19 and 49.
Though Alameda County’s $7.8 million per year contract with Aramark to provide food service for the county’s jails was supposed to expire this year, Raynor said, it has been extended to 2013 without public comment or review despite competitive bidding requirements. Food service workers at the county jails are not unionized.

Auditors at Florida’s Department of Corrections found that Aramark had billed $5 million worth of “phantom” meals at state prison facilities, Raynor said. “The state of Florida is investigating Aramark, and Alameda County ought to do the same,” he added.

Citing quality and fulfillment problems experienced by Texas jails, and by public schools in Philadelphia, Detroit and New Haven, Conn., Raynor said workers who have tried to blow the whistle on Aramark’s practices have been harassed and punished.

In a brief conversation after the rally, Raynor said the union is protesting Aramark’s “pattern of conduct” toward its workers in union and non-union workplaces, and toward clients and communities around the country.

Volunteer union organizer Gary Lawrence, who works for Aramark at Oakland’s Coliseum, told the crowd about the intimidation of workers he observed during a recent organizing visit to Atlanta. Despite the company’s efforts, “I’m happy to say the card check election worked,” he said. “Even though the workers were afraid, they managed to get a union contract there.”

Lawrence, a steward at his workplace, told the World that while his facility is unionized, Aramark regularly “tries to get away with things and we have to make them follow the contract.”

Solidarity greetings were brought by the Alameda Labor Council and by the Service Employees International Union, which has been working with UNITE HERE to demand accountability from Aramark.

In recent months UNITE HERE has rallied union members and supporters in New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston, Portland, Los Angeles and other cities to call for better treatment of Aramark workers and customers.