Dining Services Reports Student Worker Shortage

Drew Kaplan ’20, Editor-In-Chief

Dining Services has reported a decrease in the number of student workers this year compared to others. This shortage has led to remaining student workers raising concerns of being overworked to ensure all shifts are covered.

According to Director of Dining Services Errol Huffman, the decrease in students working in dining services positions is in large part due to the small size of the current first year class, “a group from which many of our student-employees originate,” Huffman said. The result of this is an insufficient number of student workers. Huffman explained that students sometimes also leave their positions, work fewer hours, or cancel their shifts entirely “in order to participate in other activities from extracurriculars to academics.”

“There are times where a student might call off, and then there is […] only one employee there” explained Marja van Mierlo ’22, a current red shirt who is planning to quit, “it seems to be okay, […] but it’s also hard.” This is because oftentimes student workers can be reassigned to other locations to make up for missing workers, but often lack the necessary training for different locations said van Mierlo.

A current dining services employee who will remain anonymous for fear of backlash explained that “every year, there are less student workers in the spring than in the fall. That creates natural stresses of less hours being worked by students, and thus the same amount of work being done by fewer people.” The employee continued that the stresses of having fewer employees creates stresses that “translate to the remaining student workers and non-student workers alike, because the same amount of work has to be done by fewer people.”The employee noted though that because a majority of student workers in dining services are first years, the smaller labor pool is felt more than the fewer mouths.

“I’ve definitely gotten some backlash from people I’m calling off to” said van Mierlo. She explained that supervisors will sometimes make snide remarks when students call off. “I’ve seen some mistreatment.” Van Mierlo continued that, in her perception, staff supervisors “forget that we’re students, and that things happen academically.” Mierlo added that she requested some time off from work to focus on academic work last semester, and was told “you are responsible for your shifts. If you want to quit, you have to give two weeks’ notice,” those two weeks being the same period of time she had requested off. “They forget that we’re students as well as employees,” she said.  

“Reasons [for quitting] are usually related to not enough time available in their schedules to work,” Huffman added. Before student workers are terminated however, Huffman explained that those students “are coached and counseled regarding issues of performance, behavior, or attendance and given opportunities to improve.”

“This is a natural cycle, in that the job is stressful, people quit, the job becomes more stressful for those that remain, more people quit, so there are less and less people working,” explained the anonymous employee, “we always find that in finals week there are very few students working.” The employee added that dining services is “constantly hiring more staff,” but that staffing issues have “on occasion [led to] managers and upper level staff working in food preparation and serving and cleaning due to a lack of other labor.”

Haethyr Johnson ’23, a former red shirt, explained that she discontinued working for dining services at the beginning of the spring 2020 semester. She explained that she left “because the shifts took up a lot of my time during the week, and they always depleted my energy.” Johnson continued that, after finishing her shifts, she “did not have a lot of energy to do my homework” and “was too tired to do anything and felt as though I was missing out on a bunch of social aspects of college.”

“Budget cuts may be across the board, but often the strains are felt most by our lowest paid workers,” added the anonymous employee. 

Huffman noted that issues in filling positions usually worked by students exist in other positions across campus, but that the student worker shortage is “more noticeable to guests in retail locations such as Quarry.” Huffman added that problems are particularly severe “during late-night shifts, and during peak meal periods.”