Working conditions in university food service questioned

Amadeus Smith

Ex-employee says discrimination, lack of professionalism among problems

Francis Sutton used to stand over a hot grill at Eastway Caf‚ — hot, tired, waiting for a break she thought might not come.

Sutton, senior Pan-African studies major, is currently discussing poor working conditions with representatives from Kent State Dining Services and Eastway Caf‚.

Sutton, now an ex-employee of Eastway Caf‚, worked for a year and a half before resigning from the job.

Discrimination in the workplace

Although Sutton has not filed formal grievances, she presented problems with discrimination from student managers and unsatisfactory break periods in a meeting with Tom Bauer, head supervisor at Eastway Caf‚, and Andrea Spandonis, resident director of Dining Services.

Spandonis and Bauer declined to comment on the meeting or Sutton’s claims.

But Spandonis said Sutton assured them the issue of discrimination wasn’t an issue of race.

Rather, the discrimination developed from a lack of professionalism among student managers, Sutton said.

She said student managers at Eastway Caf‚ developed relationships with lower-ranking employees, which spawned favoritism and unequal treatment of employees.

Ann Motayar, director of the Career Services Center, said supervisors are encouraged to study the Succeeding with Student Employees section in the Student Employee Handbook, which includes ways to interact with employees.

Motayar said victims of discrimination can use the Office of Affirmative Action for help in settling issues of harassment.

Give me a break and some training

Sutton is also concerned workers are not receiving the breaks listed in the employee guidelines, noting many breaks take place in the work area.

“You’re sitting in the kitchen, you’re cooking, it’s hot all day,” she said. “You need a break.”

Motayar said in the student employee guidelines, students should receive one 15-minute break after four or five consecutive hours of work. If the work period lasts six or seven hours, the employee should receive one 30-minute unpaid meal break and a 15-minute break. If the employee works eight hours, a second 15-minute break should be given.

According to the Break & Lunch Hour Guidelines of the Student Employee Handbook, student employees must “be relieved of all duties and be free to leave their assigned work area during meal and rest periods.”

Sutton said she was reprimanded for taking bathroom breaks after notifying a coworker.

Motayar said student employees should be allowed smaller breaks during shifts.

“There are designated breaks, but that doesn’t mean a student can’t run to the restroom,” she said.

However, Motayar said there are some days when a shift may not allow for those breaks.

In addition, Sutton wants to see advancements in employee training.

She said students are “thrown on grill” without prior training and recalled one employee being terminated for not being able to perform a task she was never trained to do.

Sutton said Dining Services told her there wasn’t enough money for more training.

Ed Schaufele, senior manager in Dining Services, said employees are trained for three to four days before each semester when the number of customers is significantly lower, and most employees are returning employees who can perform the required tasks.

But some of Sutton’s problems with certain dining units not following university guidelines may be void because many of the guidelines are not rules all management has to abide, but rather suggestions, Motayar explained.

Hard times at the Hub

Sutton isn’t the only one seeing problems.

English major Beth Vild, who works at Quiznos, said in March, workers at the Hub were promised a pay increase in addition to the recent minimum wage increase and still haven’t seen it.

“None of the managers will answer us when we ask about it,” Vild said.

She also said she has seen a pattern of employees being fired for taking sick days.

Quiznos employee Patrick Burke, senior history major, agreed. He said he was taken off the schedule for a week and threatened with termination for missing a shift because of illness.

Motayar said student employees are not guaranteed a set number of sick days, but she believes supervisors try to work with employees’ schedules.

But, she said students should take responsibility for their jobs.

Another problem, which Vild said could be handled internally, is being under-staffed during busy hours.

Vild said the heavy customer flow can be overwhelming for a three-person staff.

“Managers just don’t realize how many people come here during the night shift,” she said.

Burke said the day shift also needs more workers.

“We need two more on during the day to do prep so we can focus on the customers,” he said.

Burke added being short staffed is often a result of employees not showing up for work rather than management’s poor scheduling.

Some students still smilin’

However, other students said they are happy with their jobs.

Melissa Messam, junior business management major, and Siomara Marquetti, junior applied communication studies major, said they love working at Prentice Caf‚.

Schaufele said he has experienced almost no student problems during his career at Kent State.

Schaufele has worked at Tri-Towers, Eastway Center, Beall Hall and the Kent Student Center. He is currently stationed at Prentice Caf‚ and enjoys working with student employees.

“We really seem to get along well,” he said. “It’s a good team thing.”

Motayar said problems in the different dining departments hardly become large enough to reach the administrative level.

“I’d say 99 percent of concerns get resolved at the department,” she said. “In five years, there may have been one complaint that has reached the office.”

Sutton said workers at Eastway Caf‚ have been persuaded not to file formal grievances.

Greg Jarvie, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students enrollment management and student affairs, said the university prefers students use the Office of the Student Ombuds to mediate problems and handle them internally before filing grievances.

“If a student has an issue, they really do need to go one step further and have it addressed,” he said. “If something isn’t addressed immediately, the problem festers and will not go away.”

Contact minority affairs reporter Amadeus Smith at [email protected].