The end of Chartwells on campus

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Cindy Gates is pictured preparing to open the Lab Café from behind its partially transparent storefront gates.
Cindy Gates prepares to open the Lab Café as her contract nears its final month. allister white

Union jobs a casualty as U of R plans to privatize food service, cut costs

The faces of food service at the University of Regina (U of R) along with the landscape they have been a part of for decades will soon disappear due to changes for food services on campus. Many vibrant people, constant staples in the lives of students and faculty, will find themselves out of jobs on April 30, 2024. 

 Earlier this year, all current Chartwells employees were served termination letters. This came as Student Affairs opened the new year with an announcement that the U of R’s contract with Chartwells, the current food services provider, will be discontinued as of April 30. In an email, the university explained that they have been “listening to feedback from students, faculty, and staff, and [are] committed to enhancing the campus food experience.”  

The only establishments in the main U of R campus not impacted will include The Lazy Owl, Extreme Pita, Gong Cha, and the Momentum Café. Robins in Campion College as well as the Luther Cafeteria will also remain unimpacted by the Chartwells closure.  

Everett Dorma, a public affairs strategist with the U of R, would not give the Carillon clarity as to whether or not the university is planning to take on Chartwells’ role. Dorma, on behalf of Paul Dederick, did explain that the new food services model “may look different,” but claims that it “will provide a greater variety of healthy nutritious and competitively priced food options on-campus.” Dorma also stressed that this new model is “being developed” with more details to come – when asked, Dorma did not clarify by whom the model is being developed. 

For Chartwells employees, the university’s silence spells bad news. When asked what happens for food service on campus after April 30, Rakibul Alam, a supervisor at Subway, stated “We don’t know, actually. It’s futureless. They [Chartwells] just gave us termination letters, that’s all.” Alam explained that the university is involved in discussions with the company and union.  

On the question of whether or not the university was assisting employees, many of whom are also students, or have had their contracts grandfathered into a Chartwells contract thanks to the university’s decisions, Alam said “As far as I know they’re not helping us [with] anything.”   

Cindy Gates, a Chartwells employee, explained that all Chartwells employees were given termination letters. “We are fired. We are done… everyone, all of us. Everybody,” Gates explained. Gates also reported that around 60 [per cent] of Chartwells staff will be done working on the last day of classes before exams. “For those last two weeks of April it’ll just be Riddell Centre,” Gates told the Carillon.  

Gates also expressed her belief that the university has ulterior motivations for the change and that the shift is not simply about “enhancing the campus food experience,” but also reducing expenses. “As it stands right now, the university is responsible for basically everything, like all the machinery and any repairs, that kind of thing. And they kind of want to step back from that because it’s a huge, huge expense for them,” Gates claimed.  

Gates also suggested that the university anticipated this change in advance, but did not inform employees until recently. Gates says she and other employees knew that Chartwells “was on their way out,” because of the mistakes they’ve made. “We all felt like this was coming, […] only we didn’t know that we were going to go as well,” stated Gates, shocked at the university’s plans.  

In 2019, Chartwells had a legacy of mislabelling Halal meats and consistent reports of pest infestations. 

According to Gates, privatization will include renovations to kitchen and storage spaces after April 30. The university will reportedly be prioritizing local businesses, but anyone can bid for a space on campus. Gates is skeptical, stressing that “not only do they have to pay rent, they have to bring in all their own equipment. They’re responsible for maintaining all their own equipment.” According to Gates, “The tricky part is going to be how many people are going to want to go that far to get into a spot here.” 

Elizabeth Craddock, a Film Studies student, was disappointed to hear about the closure of the Riddell Centre Tim Hortons and worried about the future of food service at the university. “I’d rather bus for Tim’s than eat some crap food,” Craddock explained, in shock at the news of the Chartwells closure. The Tim Hortons in Riddell Centre has consistently long lines at peak hours and, unlike other food vendors, has passed recent SHA health inspections with flying colours. This is not to say that Chartwells food service is without issue. For one, staff and students alike have complaints about the quality of food and the price.  

While privatization came as a shock to many, some signs were present prior to the announcement, Gates believes. “The two espresso machines that are down at the Common Ground have been broken for some time,” Gates began, going on to stress that it’s incredibly costly for the university to replace the machines – a cost that is likely upwards of $30,000 per machine. She says that the university “just never bothered because they knew they were going to give this [privatization] a try,” and hoped to reduce costs, even before the Chartwells contract ended.   

Still, privatization comes, in many ways, at the cost of current Chartwells employees and students at the U of R. “Once they privatize, the only thing the university has as far as involvement goes is collecting the rent,” Gates stated.   

A handful of Chartwells employees have been at the university long enough they could have earned five degrees – totalling upwards of 20 years working on campus, according to Alam. “I [have been] working here 15 years, and some [have been working] 25 years, 30 years; they are getting almost close to retirement, they cannot find a job,” Alam added.   

Gates also spoke about the U of R’s decision and the impact it has on employees: “If they were bringing in another food service company, say Aramark, or Versa, then we would all stay because that’s actually in our contract we’re grandfathered through. We get to stay as the staff, but because they’re privatizing it’s up to each individual… [and] who they want for staff.”  

There is no guarantee that jobs, if they are created by the new model, will be union jobs – yet another price to pay to privatize. 

It’s likely, due to the number of students who are employed by Chartwells on campus, that the privatization will adversely impact international students who can only work limited hours off-campus. During regular school terms, international students typically can only legally work up to 20 hours per week off-campus.  

International students don’t have any restrictions on the hours they are allowed to work on campus. While they can work for a private business on campus, it’s unclear if those businesses will be hiring. A lack of transparency on the part of the university makes planning for employees with complex circumstances, such as those faced by international students, nearly impossible.  

Students may also be adversely affected by the university’s lack of transparency. There are conflicting accounts on the future of funds on Chartwells meal cards. Gates is certain that after April 30, “there’ll be no way to recover or retrieve [funds on meal cards].” When Chartwells is gone, Gates says “Whatever’s left on your card is gone.” Her advice to anyone with a meal card? “Spend. It. Up.” 

Gates has repeated this sentiment to students who come into the Lab Café with meal cards. She says she’s been urging them to empty out the shelves and fridges, offering boxes and carts to help move the food around in hopes of limiting funds lost by students as a result of the change.  

In RPIRG’s town hall on March 5, 2024 with university executives, John Smith claimed that Chartwells will turn meal card funds over to the university. Then, potentially, the university will be turning the funds “to another food provider on campus.” Smith assured students that “no pennies will be lost.”  

Despite this public assurance, the U of R has publicly posted signs stating that “anyone with funds on meal plans is encouraged to use them by April 30th.” 

In February 2019, the U of R made an announcement similar to the one it made earlier this year – that it would not be renewing its contract with Chartwells.  

Dorma explained on behalf of Paul Dederick that in 2019, when the U of R’s contract with Chartwells expired, “the University undertook a comprehensive review process to procure a new food services vendor.” After this review process, the U of R considered other vendors but planned to keep the model of food delivery on campus the same. As a result of this decision, the U of R chose to renew its partnership with Chartwells despite the corporation’s reputation among students, staff, and faculty.  

Now the university is involved in what they call “confidential” business negotiations, marking the future of Chartwells on campus as much more grim than it was in 2019.  

What is the future of food service at the U of R? Likely, privatization. And, as Gates says, that privatization ”depends on who wants to bid in, who can make the space work for them.”  

The future of Chartwells employees is equally murky apart from a few facts – that Gates is “sure there are lots of folks that would prefer to stay,” and that employees have been looking for answers and hoping to plan ahead for some time now while the U of R and Chartwells remain tight-lipped.  

Chartwells staff will be receiving severance pay, but it is currently unclear how the pay is calculated. Allegedly, the three parties involved — Chartwells, CUPE, and the U of R – are currently in discussions together to determine this.   

The Carillon requested an interview with involved members on the U of R board of directors. The university’s spokespeople declined requests for comment on behalf of involved members.  

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