In response to the guest column published March 14 asking that the University of Florida require fair wages and working conditions in any new food contract, let me say that Aramark strongly supports that goal at UF and everywhere we do business.
Our team at UF is passionate about serving students and contributing to the university’s success. At UF and across the country, Aramark invests in solutions and community partnerships that improve access to healthy food, address food insecurity and improve employment skills.
A few things we’re doing to ethically and sustainably serve Gator Nation:
We’re promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth by providing productive employment for our employees. Our UF employees all live in the Gainesville area and are Gator family — including 279 students, over half of our workforce. Fourteen managers are UF alum. Over 160 have been with us over five years; some as many as 25 years.
We’re committed to fair pay and working conditions. We raised our minimum starting wage for full-time employees at the same time as the university’s recent increase to $15 per hour; our part-time employees received a 14% increase in their hourly rate and starting wage.
We’ve been a member since 2010 of the Fair Food Program, called the best workplace-monitoring program in the U.S. by the New York Times.
We’ve been a member of the Fresh From Florida program since 2018. We have partnerships with over 200 small or diverse suppliers in Florida, with an economic impact of about $22.5 million. About 25% are certified as diverse suppliers; our goal is to double that through our certification education programs.
Some of our local purchasing comes from Plant-Based Protein for People and Our World and Florida farms including Pexco Farms and Mike Lott Farms in Plant City, Noble Citrus farms in Winter Haven, Cahaba Club Farms in Odessa, and J&J Produce in Loxahatchee.
All beef served in residential dining locations is sourced and purchased from Florida Cattle Ranchers.
All our leafy greens are purchased from Traders Hill Farm in Hilliard — and we’re working with them as they build a co-op to increase our local purchasing power exponentially.
Recognizing the urgent threat of climate change, we’re developing practical solutions to minimize our environmental impact, reduce our carbon footprint and preserve natural habitats. We’ve committed that by the end of 2025, we’ll reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 15% from our 2019 baseline.
Gator Dining is an active volunteer on campus and in the UF community, advocating for sustainability and fighting food insecurity. In fact, Gator Dining and Aramark at UF recently received a national award for sustainability from the National Association of College and University Food Services.
For more, visit aramark.com/sustainability.
Regarding our work in correctional institutions, let me be very clear. We understand and respect the passionate debate around our nation’s prison system, which is why we’re committed to being part of the solution to the extent we can help.
Our staff members in those facilities work alongside incarcerated men and women designated by corrections agencies to work in kitchens. And we’re strongly committed to programs that help them prepare for potential careers in food service and, importantly, for re-entry into their communities.
For example, through our vocational training program, IN2WORK, Aramark helps participants develop food service and culinary skills that make their job search easier once they are released. Graduates of the program can apply for scholarships through Aramark to assist in furthering their education. Since the program’s launch we’ve seen recidivism rates for participants reduced by as much as 30%.
In addition, we’ve seen very promising results from a pilot re-entry program, Out4Good, in which we’re partnering with the Urban League of Philadelphia. It’s part of a critical effort to reform the criminal justice system. This program, which we are working to expand, has the power to change lives for generations by establishing a direct pathway to rehabilitate people.
Contrary to the March 14 column’s reference to “for-profit prisons,” the vast majority of Aramark’s corrections work is for state and county correctional facilities. We do have existing contracts with a few correctional facilities, representing less than one-half of 1% of our corrections portfolio, that recently became owned and operated by a third party and are contracted by the local government.
At Aramark, our commitment to serve others begins in the facilities where we work, but it continues with a dedication to the communities we call home.
Trevor Ferguson is field president for Aramark Higher Education.