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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Discontent in the Dining Service: Bon Appétit employees complain of unkept promises by management

<loyees of Carleton College’s Dining Services are, to put it simply, not happy.

Smith, a Carleton Food Service employee of over 10 years, says she no longer looks forward to coming in to work. “I enjoy being with the students,” she says. “Sometimes it’s just frustrating to come to work. It’s just rush, rush, rush.”

Employees Brown, another 10-year+ worker, and Jones, a 2-year employee, echo these sentiments. “Everybody loved their job,” says Jones, “but now it’s just you dread coming to work.”

So what’s the reason for this sharp deflation of morale? According to Smith, Brown and Jones, it’s an undue amount of stress and anxiety stemming from what they perceive as too much work and not enough hands in the kitchens of Carleton. They say this overworked feeling has been the norm ever since Bon Appétit took over Carleton’s food service last year, and they, quite literally, are tired of it.

Smith’s biggest complaint with Bon Appétit is that replacements are not found when workers call in sick. She says that, instead, managers encourage the remaining workers to “pitch in” in order to cover the ill employee’s responsibilities, and that lately this has been a frequent occurrence.

Jones has observed this as well. “We didn’t have a morning salad bar person at all last week,” he relates. “So our night salad bar person was overwhelmed.”

Smith also says that she and other workers are being asked to do tasks that are not in their job descriptions, and she calls this “unfair.” “It’s hard on us,” she says. “They’re pushing us too much with the workload.”

But Allison Albritton, the new General Manager for Bon Appétit Carleton, states that asking an employee to do a task, even if it’s not in his or her job description, is covered in the employee contract. She also says that if an individual is transferred from his or her usual job position to cover that of an ill worker whose position pays more, that worker will receive higher compensation for those hours spent working there.

In regards to “pitching in,” she says that this is the norm when employees call in sick because of Bon Appétit’s no-overtime policy. Workers clocked in a lot of overtime hours last fall during the transition from Sodexho, she says, and this has put a strain on the budget. “We came in with a specific labor budget,” she says and adds that the no-overtime policy is an attempt to “get back on track.”

Part of this track seeking also involved cutting back both part- and full-time workers’ hours at the beginning of this term. Full-timers were cut from 40 hours to 37.5. Albritton says the motive behind this scaling-back was to remain within the budget, but at the same time avoid letting people go. She says that reinstating the 40 hours sometime within the year is something she and her management staff have “in consideration,” but that “it’s not for certain.”

Brown, however, says that the extra work that comes along with “pitching in” is not the only problem the workers have. She says that, even when all employees are present, there is not enough time and manpower to get everything done, and she is worried about the consequences this will have on the food and, as a result, on the students. She says she has observed things like food being left on shelves for days after it should have been thrown away, and states that food items are not being properly covered and labeled. She attributes this to the inordinate amount of tasks workers are expected to finish within their scheduled hours. Jones agrees, calling the amount of work that employees are expected to do in the space of their hours “ridiculous.” “For what they expect you to do you cannot possibly get it all done,” he states.

Smith, Brown and Jones are in agreement that the working conditions are worse under Bon Appétit than with Sodexho. Jones has particularly strong opinions, stating that things are “100% worse” in comparison with Carleton’s past food provider. “It’s like ‘Groundhog Day,’” he states. “Each day is worse.”

Smith also finds that the atmosphere of the Dining Services work environment has dramatically changed, both from last year to this year and even from fall term to winter term. “It’s stressing. People are not happy anymore downstairs,” she says referring to Burton Dining Hall.

Albritton attributes the stress employees are feeling to “growing pains,” which she says are to be expected with such a big transition. “[Some of the workers] came from Sodexho, which is a totally different entity,” she says. “Everybody’s getting used to it.”

Jones, however, thinks these “growing pains” should have been resolved by now. “When do you stop saying, ‘Oh we can let it go for another month’?” he asks.

Albritton cites the rebid, which took place over winter break and involved the restructuring of a number of jobs, as the reason for why problems have continued and still continue this term. She says this in itself was another mini transition which people are still getting used to.

She also says that the reason why employees’ frustrations have not been fully dealt with as of yet is that said employees are not expressing them to their supervisors. “They’re not communicating that with us,” she states.

In the future, she says Bon Appétit hopes to open up the lines of communication between managers and hourly workers, though she did not give any specifics for how they plan to do so. “We want them to come talk to us,” she says.

Smith, Brown and Jones, however, feel their superiors are not hearing their voices. “I don’t think they’re listening,” says Brown. “There is a lack of communication with the workers.” She states that when she lets a manager know something, like, for instance, when an item needs to be reordered, she often has to repeat it several times before anything gets done.

Brown also feels that a lot of miscommunication stems from the fact that she has so many different people working over her. Each person, she says, tells the employees something different, leaving them confused. “Too many managers but no workers,” she says.

Employees also worry about what speaking up will mean in terms of job security. Smith admits she is afraid to say anything on those occasions when she is asked to “pitch in,” for fear it will be seen as insubordination. “You feel like you cannot complain,” she says.

All three workers, though, feel it is important to make the college as a whole aware of what Dining Services employees are experiencing. “This should be known by the whole campus, the workers and the students,” says Smith.

Jones is in favor of organizing some sort of meeting with students, hourly workers, Bon Appétit, and college representatives in order to address, or at least get the word out about some of these issues. “Students are our best hope,” he says.

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