By the first day of spring-term classes on April 6, most of Carleton’s dining hall and bookstore staff members had been placed on unpaid leave until further notice. While Carleton has assured all employees that their jobs are not in danger, these workers are employees of Bon Appétit and Barnes and Noble, respectively, meaning that Carleton leadership did not have control over their employment.
Over 75 Bon Appétit employees have temporarily lost their jobs as a skeletal staff of about 20 workers continues to serve students on campus, said Director of Operations Eric Rasmussen.
The understanding between Bon Appétit and furloughed employees is that they will eventually be able to return to their jobs at the rate of income they’d had when they left. “Bon Appétit is prepared as well as anyone in our industry to weather this storm,” said Rasmussen, “But no one can predict the future in these uncertain times.” He did not rule out the possibility of a more permanent downsizing.
“I haven’t really thought about the future,” said Aleka Pitsavas, who worked at Sayles Café until she was placed on leave. Pitsavas said she has been able to get unemployment insurance in the time since.
“Hopefully something good will come of this. I try to stay positive, but sometimes it’s hard,” Pitsavas said.
To determine which employees were given the option to keep their job on campus, Bon Appétit relied on the rankings of seniority within the International Union of Operating Engineers (IOUE), of which all long-term employees are members.
“Hopefully something good will come of this. I try to stay positive, but sometimes it’s hard.”
IUOE is usually a key part of the relationship between Bon Appétit employees, the company, and the College. According to IUOE representative Scott Marsyla, everyone has been holding up their ends of the bargain in light of all the sudden and drastic changes to working life that COVID-19 has brought. The main support that IUOE is providing to members during this time is being a resource for questions members may have because “it is up to the individual member to apply for government unemployment benefits,” Marsyla said.
Across the Sayles Great Space, the bookstore is empty except for store manager Whitney Baumgard. Without her usual team of two associates and several student workers, Baumgard has been handling the bulk of student textbook orders for the term by herself.
“Being a retail establishment, if there aren’t customers here, there’s just not a need,” Baumgard said of the recent furlough decision.
Placing employees on temporary unpaid leave was a decision from Barnes and Noble’s corporate management group, but Carleton has stepped in to offset the financial difficulties unemployed workers face. The college will reimburse furloughed employees for the health insurance premium payments that they will miss during this time once they come back to work, so that they do not have to accept a reduced paycheck then.
“That was not expected by any means and I was very excited that they were going to do that,” Baumgard said.
Aside from concerns over her own health as she continues to work on campus and the wellbeing of her coworkers—who, she says she calls several times a week for check-ins—the biggest thing looming in Baumgard’s mind, as in everyone’s, is “the giant question mark that nobody has the answer to: when will it end?”