By James David
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD – A contract change between the Department of the Army and a food services contractor, scheduled to take effect next month, would slash by one-third the wages of dining hall employees who choose to continue in their current positions.
Professional Contract Service Inc. of Austin has given the employees until Tuesday to accept offers to stay on that would result in a $5-an-hour loss in pay for cooks and food service workers at three of Fort Hood's dining facilities.
The change is the result of the dining halls' operation returning to PCSI after having been maintained by Fort Hood's Directorate of Logistics for the past three years.
PCSI will resume operating three dining facilities over the next three months from DOL, which took over the facilities in 2004 when the contractor relinquished the responsibilities because the dining facilities were stretched thin with the arrival of the 4,000-man 39th Infantry Brigade from the Arkansas National Guard.
"In 2003 when the Guard and Reserves came in, we were swamped," said Terry Schmille, PCSI operations manager for Fort Hood.
When the contractor was unable to handle the huge mobilizations in July 2004, DOL was given the authority to establish a temporary Department of the Army civilian work force to staff the mess halls. The agreement was for two years or until the situation was stabilized.
The food services contract started in October 2004 after DOL took over was valued at $2.137 million and was expected to last until September 2009. The terms of the latest contract haven't been made public yet.
DOL took over the operation because the hours and requirements of mess hall staffing were changed to reflect "no-notice" changes, because
units required feeding in the field on a 24-hour basis to include early morning through late night and deployment feeding, according to a Fort Hood statement issued Friday night by Director of Food Service Clifford Harper.
According to a statement provided by Harper, negotiations have been in progress since July 2006 to resume full-service functions since the post's mobilizations have stabilized.
However, the return of operations to PCSI has some employees who have worked under DOL concerned about the contractor resuming its supervision.
A cook from DOL's North Fort Hood Dining Facility, who asked to remain anonymous to protect his job security, told the Killeen Daily Herald last week the change will result in a loss in pay.
The cook, who has been with DOL as a government employee for three years, saw his wages climb to more than $15 per hour. Some cooks with DOL are making $16 to $18 per hour, he said.
Under the PCSI contract, the cooks start out at $9.94. Lead cooks at PCSI start out at $11.26.
When the employees were hired from PCSI to work for DOL, they were promised only one-year contracts. The contracts have been renewed on an annual basis, giving many of the cooks three years in seniority and government pay and benefits increases. With time served over two years, they are considered "term-appointment employees" and are eligible for benefits.
"All of the personnel hired knew from the beginning of their employment that these positions were temporary," Harper said in his statement.
"We can't match what the government is paying them," Schmille said. "Our pay is comparable to what is offered locally in large food service-type operations."
Harper said there actually wasn't much difference when the value of benefits was figured in because "temporary civilian service personnel are not authorized health or life insurance benefits and thus incur no out-of-pocket deduction from their hourly wage."
The PCSI contract offers its dining facility workers health insurance benefits after serving a three-month period. The company values the benefit at $4.20 per hour per employee, said Pete Kutheis, manager for the PCSI food service contract.
"We are scheduled to take over the full operations of three of the dining facilities over the next couple of months," Kutheis said. "The first one is North Fort Hood, which feeds approximately 2,500 soldiers per meal."
Kutheis is looking to fill 30 to 35 positions in that dining facility. The North Fort Hood facility serves primarily Guard and Reserve members called to active duty for pre-deployment training.
The cooks currently working as DOL Army civilian cooks have the option of taking employment with PCSI or serving out the rest of their DOL contracts with no guarantee of a PCSI position. The majority of them are holding out, according to the DOL employee, which was verified by PCSI staff.
"The percentage of DOL cooks staying on at this point is very low," Schmille said. "We have a mandate to be ready for full operations in North Fort Hood on Aug. 1."
Schmille said the offer for the current cooks to come to PCSI for job preference lasts only until Tuesday.
"We are prepared to staff the North Fort Hood dining facility and take over operations completely on Aug. 1," Kutheis said.
"We have to fill those positions. If we hire a replacement for that job, they will have to go. They were warned by their chain of command and us," Schmille said.
The PCSI food service contract is a union contract, Schmille said.
"Our pay and benefits are comparable to anyone's in the area for the positions we're offering," he said.
One way or another, PCSI is confident it will be ready to staff the facilities on the timeline directed by Fort Hood and the Army.
PCSI was founded in 1996 and provides services to the federal government and Texas in hospital housekeeping, full facilities maintenance, grounds and landscaping maintenance, food service, data entry, warehouse operations, administration services and mobile lighting and HVAC filter replacement.
The company has five active contracts on post, Schmille said.
It currently has the food service, police administration, Darnall grounds maintenance, a warehouse contract and a mail contract with the Air Force at Robert Gray Army Airfield. The total value of those contracts is about $6.7 million.
PCSI held the first of two job fairs at the Central Texas Workforce Commission and had a turnout of 130 applicants. The company plans another job fair from 1 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the center.
Contact James David at 501-7463 or call firstname.lastname@example.org