The Brandeis Labor Coalition delivered a petition to the Office of the President on Nov. 22 demanding language that guarantees worker retention in the University’s Request for Proposals for a new dining vendor.

The petition, which the BLC said has accrued over 700 signatures, is the most recent step of an ongoing campaign by the BLC to advocate for worker retention. The campaign has heavily scrutinized the University’s relationship with its dining staff.

“After voicing the need for employee retention at the dining program open forums, we were told that employee retention would not be guaranteed in the RFP. This shows a blatant disrespect for the hardworking people who are vital to the functioning of the Brandeis campus,” the petition says. 

BLC member Madeline Bisgyer ’20 said in a Nov. 22 interview with the Justice that the BLC “decided that we would get support from the student body and then deliver a petition with our demand for worker retention with the support of the student body, faculty, administration and also the dining hall workers to show that there is mass support for worker retention on this campus.”

“Should that wording not be included in the RFP or not be guaranteed by administration, there would be a lot of upset Brandeis community [members],” she said.

BLC members relayed the petition — which is addressed to University President Ron Liebowitz, Provost Lisa Lynch and Vice President of Campus Operations Lois Stanley — to Senior Executive Administrator to the President Heidi Popkin. According to Bisgyer, Popkin told the BLC she would deliver the petition to Liebowitz.

“I know that we have some students who are very concerned about our dining staff, and we share those concerns,” Lynch wrote in a Nov. 22 email to the Justice.

Stanley told the Justice in an interview on Nov. 25 that the University added language to the RFP about worker retention after receiving feedback from community members on the subject. This language requires prospective bidders to include a transition plan for current employees in their proposals, but the clause does not guarantee that those employees will be retained under the new contract.

Instead, the eventual finalist “will strive to employ all current Dining Service employees who wish to continue working at Brandeis in accordance with the collective Brandeis University bargaining agreement or such terms as Awarded Bidder and the employees’ bargaining agent agree,” according to Stanley, quoting the RFP.

Guaranteeing employment to workers is not standard practice, Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stew Uretsky said during the same Nov. 25 interview. “In the same way that Brandeis does not guarantee employment to anyone here, we wouldn’t impose that same standard on a vendor,” Uretsky said.

The University will discuss plans for worker retention in conversations with the bidders, and community members will have the opportunity to express concerns to the bidders through upcoming open forums, Stanley said.

The University will not be able to hold meetings with dining workers directly, however, because they work for Sodexo, which is one of the bidders for the new dining contract. This policy is in place to ensure a fair process for all prospective vendors, Uretsky said.

The RFP was issued on Wednesday, Senate Dining Committee Chair Nancy Zhai ’22 announced during Sunday’s Senate meeting. Stanley wrote in a Nov. 25 email to the Justice that proposals from vendors will be due in January, and finalists will give presentations to the community in March. The vendor will be selected in April, and its contract with the University will begin on July 1.