Keeping union jobs worth $50M, protesters tell Eastern Michigan

Protesters assembled at an Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents meeting Tuesday, demanding that the university forsake $50 million to keep its food service unionized.

“When unions are strong, we are all strong. When unions win, we all win,” Yousef Rabhi, Washtenaw County Commissioner and a current candidate for state representative, told the gathering protesters.

The protest began at 11:00 a.m. outside of Welch Hall on EMU's campus, where the monthly Board of Regents meeting was to be held. At the meeting, the Board was set to approve the privatization of food services on campus, which almost 75 percent of all other Michigan universities have done.

Before the Board of Regents took a vote on the matter, EMU interim president Don Loppnow addressed the protesters’ concerns, pointing out that Eastern's contract to privatize food services on campus will eventually have a $50 million financial benefit to the university, and assuring the crowd that the contract with outside food service provider Chartwells will not adversely affect student jobs on campus.

“Current students employees will maintain the same number of hours. The numbers of hours worked by Eastern students will at least be guaranteed at the minimum hours that they have worked the last couple of years to ensure that they too will continue to be employed,” Loppnow promised, adding, “Hours may even go up, but at the least they will remain the same.”

EMU also claims that the new food service proposal will offer students more dining options on campus, as well as improve the quality of the food.

“We greatly value our dining employees and are grateful for the outstanding services they provide for our students and the entire campus community,” Loppnow said in a press release outlining the proposal in detail.

Dr. Howard Bunsis, a professor of accounting at EMU and the treasurer of the EMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, has voiced his opinions to the media opposing the privatization of dining, as well as offering his thoughts on the university dropping Division One Athletics, a move that he supports.

Bunsis has been the root of many recent EMU news controversies due to his position with the AAUP and his outbursts over the athletics program and dining service privatization. Bunsis gave an interview to The Detroit Free Press in April regarding EMU and his opinion on dropping the university's Division One Athletic status, which is not happening anytime soon.

More recently, he held a press conference on June 14 urging students to speak out against the dining services decision due to the potential loss of jobs it could cause on dining services student workers. Of roughly 50 protesters at Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting, though, only a handful were EMU students, while the majority were union members who showed up in response to a plea on the EMU AAUP Facebook page.

EMU AAUP invited 292 people on Facebook, but only about 50 actually met at 11:00 a.m. outside of Welch Hall, where they protested for 20 minutes. Only a few returned to protest the Board meeting at 1:00 p.m.

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