Rathskeller’s Future Unclear Under Financial Strains
The Rathskeller’s abrupt closure at the beginning of the semester threw Campus Dining Service workers, students and community members into confusion and uncertainty about the future of the space.
Four CDS workers have been assigned to the Rathskeller space since last semester, but the circumstances of their current work expectations remain unclear. One of the workers, CDS grill cook, counter cook and cashier Matthew Kubach, wishes there had been more communication beforehand with workers.
“We were really kept in the dark prior to this happening — we really found out through the grapevine only a couple days prior that it was going to be shut down,” Kubach said.
Kubach works in the Rathskeller early each morning to make sandwiches for the Science Cart, but aside from that, the workers assigned to the space no longer have steady roles and are assigned miscellaneous tasks around DeCafé and elsewhere on campus.
According to Associate Dean of Campus Life and Director of Residential Life Adrian Bautista, the space will now be used as a meeting area between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. and will also be available for event rentals during the evenings. However, Kubach said he hadn’t heard of the open meeting time for the space and said he would’ve told students to leave during that time.
Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo said she was the one who decided to close the Rathskeller’s lunch hours mostly because of financial reasons.
“In Student Life, we are looking for ways to control operating costs while preserving the quality of the student experience,” Raimondo said. “Taking the Rathskeller offline for spring 2017 provided an important opportunity to develop a more robust and economically sustainable dining program for Wilder. I consulted with colleagues in Bon Appétit and Finance for data about costs related to the Rathskeller, but the decision to suspend the program was mine.”
However, Kubach questioned whether more money could have been saved elsewhere.
“When you see some of the faculty, and I don’t know what they make specifically, … but when you see them getting a 5.3 percent raise every year over the course of three years, that could add up to one year of labor for someone like me,” Kubach said.
In the long-term, plans seem uncertain. Bautista said that CDS General Manager Wayne Wood is assembling a dining committee in order to include student input in future decisions.
“As for long-term plans, the goal is to create a space that draws more faculty, staff and students and makes a positive contribution to the educational, social and economic development of the campus and local community,” Bautista said.
Milton Wyman, chairman of Oberlin’s United Auto Workers, the union that represents CDS workers, said that the primary concern for the UAW regarding the Rathskeller’s closure was the displacement of workers. He also expressed frustration over the administration’s lack of clear answers concerning the future of the union’s members and the Rathskeller.
“Even if [the workers are] moved, they should be assigned schedules and hours similar to what they were assigned before the Rathskeller closed,” Wyman added.
Raimondo said that she worked to protect the employment of the Rathskeller’s workers.
“All of the dining employees who worked at the Rathskeller continue to have jobs at the College, which was an important priority for me in developing this strategy,” she said.
The Voluntary Separation Incentive Program, which gives staff members a full one-year salary in compensation for their early retirement, has had an effect on the area. One of the two maintenance workers in the Rathskeller and DeCafé took the buyout last semester and was not replaced.
The closure of the Rathskeller has also drawn criticism from students and alumni. College senior Linda Diaz created the “Save the Rat” Facebook event to support the restaurant.
“The food at the Rat is better than most dining halls and has better prices and options than DeCafé,” Diaz said. “I think that my favorite thing about eating at the Rat was a change of pace and environment. It was nice to be able to sit down to a meal with my friends or professors in a slightly more formal and intentional setting. … Many of the workers I talked to said that there wasn’t enough student interest in the Rat. But I think that if more students were aware of all that it offered, they would be interested.”