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Dining hall workers and administration reach consensus on wage raises

With the Language and Dining Center (LDC) having lost 50% of their workers, the dining hall being highly labor intensive and high rates of dissatisfaction, it comes as little surprise that dining hall workers called for changes to their wages. 

A brief timeline establishes that the negotiations between dining hall workers and administrators began when dining hall managers sent a letter to President Alison Byerly stating their demands for a more equitable wage. This was followed by a meeting with Director of Auxiliary Services, Jesse Cashman on April 3, 2022, a response from Byerly on April 11 and two meetings with Cashman, Byerly and Vice President and Treasurer Eric Runestad on April 13 and April 21. 

The meeting on April 21 resulted in a temporary solution. All dining hall workers who continue working through the end of Spring Term will receive a two-dollar retention bonus, and managers will receive a flat one-dollar raise on top of this. There are plans to conduct a larger-scale evaluation of campus jobs, as part of the financial aid working group and its subset student work working group, over the summer and implement changes in the fall.

Dining hall manager Palina Buchanan ‘22 spoke about the inequitable pay, noting that while LDC lost 50% of its workers, it has lost about 70% of its labor, as many students cut back their hours. This loss of labor was a real catalyst for reaching out to Carleton administration. Buchanan and other managers sent out a survey to student workers to try to understand the low retention rate and better understand the problem. 

“When we sent out the survey, we heard that student managers were doing a great job [and] Bon App is super helpful, but the pay is not equitable,” Buchanan said. “Our main thing was that we’re doing more labor for the same amount of pay, so we’re having a massive worker retention problem.”

Fellow manager Micah Garrick ‘23 highlighted the intensity of working in the dining hall, explaining why they felt student workers deserved a raise. 

“This is most definitely a very labor-intensive position. It is very exhausting. I did not think that I was going to be both physically and mentally working at a job like that,” Garrick said. “It’s a lot, especially with the general conditions—it’s hot, you’re working with food and things have to be warm; it’s very rigorous to say the least.”

Garrick added to this, describing a typical shift where they are the only manager. 

“On the shifts where it’s just me managing, I typically have to serve a station, I’m serving and I’m cooking. I’m also running back and forth to the dishroom to get dishes,” Garrick said. “I also have to make sure that the cups are still filled, that milks are still filled; something runs out, I’m like ‘Ahh, I gotta find that.’ I’ll sometimes have checkers not know what to do and they’ll see me standing there and I’ll have to go and grab a general manager.”

Byerly noted the administration’s sense of urgency as students brought these demands and concerns to her. According to Byerly, this led to administrators making this a high priority and working quickly to reach a compromise. 

“We also were just very sorry to hear the students describe what felt like really hard shift conditions at times due to the depleted staffing levels,” Byerly said. “We would like the student work experience to be, if not always enjoyable, certainly reasonable, and we felt like, by their accounts, the circumstances of this term had really put them in a difficult situation.” 

Runestad and Cashman added to Byerly’s sentiment in email responses they sent to questions posed by the Carletonian. They pointed out that this low retention rate was not unusual, and that the decisions reached by the school were an attempt to mitigate it.

“We have long experienced high rates of attrition in the dining hall among student workers. The retention bonus is a measurable way to try and affect that trend, and one that has been successful with other clients of Bon Appetit,” Runestad and Cashman wrote. “Student managers in dining already receive a differential in pay, but it has declined over time, and this move helps to restore the strength of that differential.” 

According to them, there is high competition at Carleton for different jobs and other activities on campus, and many students choose to leave to partake in other jobs. By adding a retention bonus, they believe that there will be more reasons for students to stay at the dining hall. 

“Within student work at Carleton, competitive pressures are real. This includes competition for other work on campus, academic studies, and participation in clubs and activities, among other things. Our long history with high rates of attrition in dining services student work supports all of this,” Runestad and Cashman wrote. “Our hope is that the $2/hour retention will be an incentive for students to continue working in dining. What we learn about the effectiveness of retention bonus will help inform continuation of the practice.”

Looking at the responses that managers had with this temporary solution, there was a general consensus that this was fine for a temporary solution. Buchanan elaborated that, because there are plans to do a larger look at student work and financial aid, she was alright with settling for something to hold things over until the fall. 

Where many managers had previously thought the timeline would mean that implementation of more large-scale changes would not occur until 2025, they were happy to hear that the evaluation would be completed over the summer and implemented in the fall. 

“I don’t think [the wage raise] would have been anywhere near satisfactory if the timeline for a campus job evaluation wasn’t so short. We realized that the only way that Carleton can substantially raise the wages for work study is by conducting a complete evaluation of all campus jobs,” Buchanan said. “When we came into the meeting, they said that evaluation would be conducted over the summer and would be implemented in the fall. So, with that plan, we were happy to take the $2 retention bonus and the $1 raise because we view that as a step.”

Dining hall worker Julia Dunn ‘25 added to this sentiment, specifically speaking to the numerous considerations that must be taken into account.

“I think I pick up more and more how bureaucratic these processes are,” Dunn said. “Things aren’t gonna happen overnight, but there are a lot of considerations that they’ve been asked to take [into account], and there are certain things they have to keep in mind. I think at our most recent meeting they were a bit more willing to reach a middle ground.”

Yet, while these bureaucratic processes may exist, Byerly cited administrative changes as one reason that change-making was made easier than it has been before.

“Any time you have a change in leadership, you have an opportunity to think about existing structures,” Byerly said. “As times change, institutions change, and I think one of the benefits of coming in as a new person is that you don’t feel like you’re reversing your previous decisions by saying ‘Well, let’s look at this differently.’ You’re a little less tied to those things—, you didn’t institute them yourself—, so you’re a bit more inclined to say, ‘Well, I know that’s been our approach in the past, but does that really absolutely have to continue to be true now?’”

Adding to this, Byerly noted that while this change was a response to the specific dining hall worker shortages and the specificities of that job, it has led administrators to question whether the current system of having all student workers paid the same amount is still functional. This is part of the reason why Byerly plans to hold an evaluation of all campus jobs as part of the Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (IDE) plan and the financial aid working group. 

“This is a solution for a specific problem, but I think it does invite us to think about whether or not the salaries attached to all of our positions are appropriate,” Byerly said. “There’s a slight increase built into next year’s budget anyways, but it might be that we would want to consider different types of differentiation for each job.”

Looking forward, Garrick, Buchanan and Dunn all stated their hopes to have constant communication with administration. Garrick spoke to the importance of student jobs and how they are a necessity for many students on campus. 

“I want them to keep us in the loop of any changes that happen. These are jobs. These are things that tie into our financial aid packages. This is part of the reason that some of us can go here, so I’d like to see continued communication just moving forward in general,” Garrick said. “I’m content. I think we’ve done as much as we can right now, so I am content with things as they are.”

Dunn added to this sentiment, pointing out the importance of dining hall workers, specifically, to the campus as a whole. She hopes to see administrators continue to take dining hall concerns seriously and implement real change. 

“If the dining halls aren’t fully staffed, that doesn’t just affect dining hall workers and dining hall managers, that affects every other student on campus, because the dining halls are chaotic,” Dunn said. “So, actually listening to what we’re saying and actually doing the analysis, not just having a representative there.”

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