Cafeteria Under the Microscope

El Vaquero Staff Writer

The immediate future of the cafeteria is up in the air.

In an attempt to reduce the amount of GCC’s general fund being used to subsidize the school’s cafeteria, a group of faculty, staff and students have begun a two-month mini-review of cafeteria operations.

During the 2002-2003 fiscal year, $111,800 from the general fund was used to subsidize the cafeteria’s budget.

“It is not my goal to close the cafeteria or layoff any more employees,” Vice President of Administrative Services Larry Serot told the group. “The goal is to find a way to operate the cafeteria without underwriting it with the general fund.”

Union regulations and contracts were the center of most of the issues discussed during the Dec. 2 kick-off meeting. In 1992, the hourly kitchen staff became part of the school’s non-faculty employee union, the California School Employees Association (CSEA). This brought eight full-time employees on board and all employees now have union-level pay and benefits. Up to that point, the cafeteria was completely self-supporting and did not need extra funds, but according to Cafeteria Manager Candyce Walker, food services have “never recovered” from the `92 switchover.

When a member of the review committee asked why the food quantity and quality in the Science Center food outlet was so limited, the focus returned to union contracts. According to union agreements, the students that now work the outlet are unable to cook food without the direct supervision of a full-time employee. At this time, the cafeteria cannot afford to have a full-time employee working there and therefore relies entirely upon student workers, who are paid through the Work Studies Program.

Four employees have been laid off this year and a series of sweeping changes have been made to overall food services at the school. Casa Ortega had to be moved upstairs, both the Pacific Rim and the Verdugo Gym’s snack shop were closed and hours of operation at the cafeteria were severely limited.

Negative student response to these changes has not been as vocal as Cafeteria management expected. In a brief presentation of the cafeteria’s current state-of-affairs, Walker presented the results of a 200-student survey regarding food services. A majority of students claimed to be at least ” neither satisfied nor dissatisfied” with the cafeteria overall, with the biggest complaints coming from ” variety of foods” and hours of operation.

Walker also phoned 10 local community colleges to get a broader idea of how college cafeterias are staffed. She found that food services at seven schools were staffed by ” outside sources,” two were staffed by non-union employees and Pierce College ran a cafeteria with six union staff, compared to GCC’s 14.

“Our decision to stay with our employees is a limiting factor,” said Walker.

To bring in alternative income, Serot is in favor of renting the now-vacant spaces on the lower level of the cafeteria, citing the Zebra Cart as a working example. The cart, which is a popular student hangout in Plaza Vaquero, has been the exception to the rule set by the CSEA that forbids outside food vendors from operating on campus. The one-time agreement allows the independently owned coffee cart to operate with a limited menu and requires a royalty payment to the cafeteria. The ASGCC is scheduled to take over operations of the food/coffee cart next year and will not have to pay any extra fees.

The CSEA has adopted its no-competition policy to protect its members from any more layoffs.

Myriad suggestions, criticisms and questions were brought up during the hour-long meeting. From questions about involving culinary arts students in the cafeteria to questions about installing a microphone to announce order numbers, many opinions were offered.

To successfully deal with all the issues and inquiries brought up during the meeting, the decision was made to break the group of 40 into small committees to study and research specific subjects regarding the cafeteria. Joyce Walker, NEED TITLE, was chosen by Serot to act as the chairperson of the mini-review. The next meeting is scheduled for Jan. 6 and Serot is expected to make final decisions by February.