Dining employees call for reconsideration of conditions

Crowds of students mill about the All Campus Dining Center during the dinnertime rush hour. Food service workers struggle to manage the sporadic nature of part-time employment. Photo by Andrea Wang/The Miscellany News
Crowds of students mill about the All Campus Dining Center during the dinnertime rush hour. Food service workers struggle to manage the sporadic nature of part-time employment. Photo by Andrea Wang/The Miscellany News
Crowds of students mill about the All Campus Dining Center during the dinnertime rush hour. Food service workers struggle to manage the sporadic nature of part-time employment. Photo by Andrea Wang/The Miscellany News

Each day, bustling crowds of students line up in the All Campus Dining Center (ACDC), the Retreat and the Kiosk, waiting for their orders of omelettes, paninis and smoothies to be made. At the other side of the counter, workers hurriedly accommodate these needs. According to many employees in Vassar Dining Services, they sometimes struggle with inadequate staff, hours and pay.

About 80 people are currently employed at ACDC, including the head-chef, chef, assistant chef, baker, assistant baker and the kitchen staff. Kitchen workers are the only positions filled by both full-time and part-time employees. Although they share identical responsibilities, there remains a sizable wage gap between these positions. Full-timers earn 13 to 15 dollars per hour while part-timer earns only 8.5 to 9.5 dollars for each hour of work.

Aside from the difference in pay, full-time employees receive inequitable benefits depending on the number of years they have worked for Vassar. A part-time employee who wished to remain anonymous explained, “If you work five years, you will receive two weeks of paid vacation; if you work more than 10 years, you get three weeks or even a month.”

She disclosed, “I feel that we should also share benefits like health insurance, which currently is only for the full-time workers. There should be some kind of subsidy for part-time employees being that we also pay union dues.”

Normally, a full-time employee works 40 hours, five days per week. However, another part-time employee reported that she works a maximum of 52 hours every week. “I also cover full-time hours because they need help. So I come during days and nights depends on the flexibility and demand of the restaurant. Except for working here, I also do housekeeping work for the elderlies outside of campus.”

An anonymous full-time worker noted that part-time employees have to work extra hours because they are often short-handed. She described, “Sometimes students come in and no one is behind the line to serve them. Sometimes there aren’t enough clean dishes out. So we need a lot of part-time workers to substitute the full-timers who are unavailable. They may work from 4 to 7 p.m. or 5 to 9 p.m., filling in the shifts with high demand.”

She went on to comment, “Although a lot of the part-timers are getting more hours now, they still don’t receive equivalent benefits. I do wish Vassar would open up more opportunities, more jobs because we need these positions … Now instead of posting more jobs, they wait for current employees to go out, maybe for a knee surgery, and upgrade the current part-time workers. However, it’s only temporary. They still are not offered paid vacation time or sick time. They just get paid as a regular wage.”

The difficulty in finding full-time work on campus is that job openings are incredibly limited. Another full-time employee agreed, saying, “I worked here part-time for about four years before I applied for an opening. There happened to be a big buy-out with Vassar. A lot of people took the buy-out and it opened up a whole new world for the part-timers.”

She continued, “Vassar has great benefits and we love working with the students, so I’m happy here. That’s why no one leaves when they get a full-time job. We usually have to wait until someone retires, which could be another 17, 20 years. So it’s hard for our newcomers to get a full-time position.”

A cashier at the Retreat seconded, “I’ve worked here part-time for three years. The other cashier has worked here for two years but hasn’t yet found an opening.”

“There’s a priority list,” a part-time ACDC employee said. “We are hired according to seniority, who has worked for the longest gets the job.

She further contributed that it is difficult to distribute their time because part-time employees have other jobs and commitments. She commented, “It’ll be more efficient to promote them to full-time positions and have them on a stable schedule. But unfortunately, with limited full-time positions and funds, the part-time employees are not getting used wisely. They might come in on a Friday when there are few students but on a busy Thursday night yet there’s nobody on the floor.

“I think Aramark, the corporate food provider, negotiates the budget with Vassar; and because of its limitation, there are not a lot of full-time employment opportunities.”

On the contrary, a student Kiosk worker shared that nobody working there seems to be struggling to get more hours. In fact, they are dealing with a lack of enthusiasm due to the working conditions at night.

She wrote in an email, “You choose how many hours you wanted at the beginning of the year and now it is what it is. We recently had someone disappear (not officially quit, just never showed up to work again). Honestly, I probably will too next semester. While the work environment is nice and the people are great, the shifts are at difficult hours and the incentive ($) just isn’t worth it when/if my grades fall.”

The employees at the Kiosk are primarily students, and for the most part, first-year students. They all share the battle of balancing work, study and sleep. For instance, there is a student employee from a nearby college who not only has to make the 30-minute commute to and from work, but also has to work an entire night shift, meaning that she works until 2 a.m. on a night before she has classes at 8:30 a.m.

Kiosk workers feel that they should be paid more because of the intensity of job demand. One acknowledged, “Upon talking to my Vassar coworkers, we all agreed that $10 per hour feels a bit unreasonable. The hours the kiosk are late (8-2, each shift 2 hours).”

She continued, “Don’t get me wrong, the Kiosk isn’t a bad place to work. I’ve been a hostess and have worked at a fast food joint before–the Kiosk is fairly manageable. But the night is the most difficult part. We are required to be on our feet for the entire shift. After a long day, working at the Kiosk is just–you just gotta get through with it.”

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