The Oberlin Review

Temporary CDS Workers to Receive Free Meals

Oliver Bok, Staff Writer

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Campus Dining Services has decided to allow temporary workers to eat a meal following their shifts after a petition by the Student Labor Action Coalition asking CDS to change its staff meal policy garnered over 1000 signatures.

“I need this week to communicate to the managers that work in four different [CDS locations] how this would work, and then we will implement [the new policy] right after that,” said Michele Gross, director of Dining Services, on Tuesday. “I think we’re going to have a test of it starting next week.”

The old staff meal policy granted a meal to non- student workers who worked at least five hours per shift. In practice, the policy excluded temporary workers from receiving staff meals because their shifts are typically four hours long.

Student employees of CDS, who also work relatively short shifts, have always been given staff meals. College senior and SLAC member Jackson Kusiak said that his own experiences working in CDS provided some of the inspiration for the petition.

“Every day, when I go in there, within the first half an hour the manager tells us to go to break. We get to eat whatever we want when we go on break,and usually the people who fill in for us while we’re on break are temp workers,” said Kusiak. “It basically just feels really shitty to know that some workers are being treated differently from all the rest.”

The SLAC petition also explained that temporary workers could be given meals at little to no cost to the College.

“At the end of the meal, most of the leftover food is thrown away. These temporary workers are forced to throw away hundreds of pounds of prepared food every day and are not allowed to eat any of it,” stated the petition.

According to Gross, the petition’s assessment of the financial cost of the change in policy is largely correct; the College regularly discards large amounts of uneaten food to remain compliant with health regulations.

“If we’re going to operate the plan as I currently envision it, I do not see a cost implication,” said Gross. “I’m hoping that there will be minimal cost implication, if any, because we’re planning to have this be food that we’ll have to discard.”

According to Gross, the issue was brought to her attention when students from SLAC discussed the matter with her several weeks ago. Since then, Gross said she had reviewed the issue and decided that the policy change was a good idea. She did not say what impact the SLAC petition had on her decision making.

“I was surprised by how fast the petition gathered signatures,” said Kusiak. “A lot of people actually had direct experience working in CDS, knew about the issue, had felt frustrated about it, but didn’t really know what to do about it. … I think a lot of people do care about workers on this campus, despite how removed we are from them in a lot of different ways.”

Some students at the financial information ses- sion held by Vice President of Finance and Administration Mike Frandsen last week questioned Frandsen on why Oberlin employs temporary workers at all. Kusiak agreed with the criticism and stated that he saw the staff meal petition partially as a way of sparking broader conversations about labor at Oberlin and temporary workers in particular.

“The position of temp workers is degrading,” said Kusiak. “It shouldn’t even exist as a position. … There’s no job security, the pay is close to minimum wage, and they are treated with disrespect by managers.”

In Gross’s view, temporary workers are a result of CDS employing a much larger percentage of students than most comparable college dining services.

Students often drop shifts, and temporary workers are hired to fill in.

“Students are an important part of our workforce, so their absence is a difficult challenge for us,” said Gross. “These agency workers are hired to fill [in] when students are not on the job. They vary in how many they are depending on the time of the year. So we will be having slightly more temp workers next week, because many students will start to say, ‘I need to be doing my academics, not working,’” Gross said. “[Temp workers] don’t have a job; they are filling in when students are not available or during shifts we haven’t found a student to fill.”

Gross stated that she did not view using temporary workers as ideal, although for somewhat different reasons than SLAC.

“We constantly review if there are other solutions because — nothing against a temp worker — they don’t have a commitment to us. [The United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Imple- ment Workers] has a commitment, students have a commitment, and then we have the temporary worker who could be here one week and never be here again. … We haven’t yet figured out a way to come up with any other structure, so I don’t see the agency workers going away,” said Gross.

Kusiak acknowledged that ending Oberlin’s use of temporary workers would be complicated. “I’m not sure what the solution is. Students could be potentially penalized for calling out too late — there could be measures in place that wouldn’t necessitate on-call workers,” said Kusiak. He added that in his opinion, even if temporary workers prove impossible to do away with, the staffing agency — the company that the College actually pays and that employs the temp workers directly — is not.

“The staffing agencies are completely unnecessary, in my mind. They provide almost no training. Yeah, they do some job recruitment, but they are taking nearly half of the temp workers’ pay for doing nothing,” said Kusiak. “ It really wouldn’t be that hard, in my mind, to run things more in-house, [to] eliminate the staffing agencies.”

Kusiak stated that two additional goals SLAC would pursue in the future are unionizing temporary workers and firing Bon Appétit as Oberlin’s food service company, which he believes is exploitative.

“Bon Appétit is owned by Compass Group. They are the largest food service company in the world. They invest in and profit off of prisons, militaries, oil rigs, mining camps. They’re an incredibly exploitative company,” said Kusiak.

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