Dining hall workers to protest Commons closure

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Photo by Clinton Wang.

Frustrated staff from Yale’s dining halls and members of the Local 35 union voiced complaints over the termination of Commons’ dinner hours at a Monday panel discussion and will hold a protest this Friday to coincide with the start of Parents’ Weekend.

With the University’s largest dining hall now closed nights, the influx of students who must now eat dinner in residential college dining halls is pushing the system beyond the capacity of the current staff, dining staff and Local 35 members said. College chefs and workers cited longer lines and more crowded seating during peak eating times as evidence of the jump in student demand at residential college dining halls. They said the added stress makes for an unhealthy working environment and prevents dining hall employees from doing their jobs effectively.

“This is really tough for dining halls and students who are waiting through really long lines,” Silliman head chef Stuart Comen said. “It’s taxing the system and the workers are getting frustrated — we need to get Commons back open.”

Students and dining hall workers are planning a “speakout” on the issue at the corner of College and Elm Streets this Friday. Fliers for the event, which organizers handed out at the Monday panel in the Silliman College common room, said “Stand up for Yale tradition, real food and real jobs.

Local 35 represents Yale maintenance, food service and custodial workers. The union is part of the Federation of Hospital and University Employees, a coalition of labor unions in New Haven that serves thousands of workers at the University and Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Ten dining hall staff and Local 35 members at the panel were unanimous in voicing their concerns regarding the new Commons hours, but Regenia Phillips, Yale Dining’s director of residential dining, said the complaint that dining halls are taxed beyond the capacity of their current staff is “untrue.” She pointed out that although demand for food at the Morse and Stiles dining halls outpaced supply earlier in the fall, college masters mitigated the situation by putting restrictions on transfers from other colleges.

“The fall semester is always very busy, and some days will be busier than others,” she said. “But students settle into a routine.”

Aside from complaints of a spike in residential college dining demand, dining hall workers and union members also expressed concern over the process by which administrators chose to close Commons. Dining hall staff criticized what they called “top-down” decision-making, saying they were told about Commons only after the decision had been made.

“When you’re building a foundation, you have to start from the bottom, not the top,” Patricia James, a Jonathan Edwards College dining hall worker, said. “They should have asked us what we thought — at least we would have felt like we were important and a part of this.”

Phillips said the decision to close Commons was made by the upper echelons of the University administration, but that she did not know exactly who had final say.

Jeanette Norton, deputy director of Yale Dining, said in an interview with the News in May that Commons was opened for dinner to accommodate students living in Swing Space, and keeping Commons open is financially unfeasible with the completion of the residential college renovations and 12 other college dining halls in operation.

Meg Riccio, chief steward for Local 35 and former Yale dining hall worker, said she believes dining hall staff could have cooperated with administrators and “easily” come up with the cost savings equal to those from closing Commons for dinner.

Students, about 10 of whom attended the Monday panel discussion, have also voiced their concerns of the closure of Commons’s dinner. Over 800 undergraduates joined a “Save Commons dinner” Facebook group in May, protesting the University’s decision. At the time, many students said that having dinner in Commons is a Yale tradition, and the hall’s large tables are important for groups trying to meet over a meal.

According to Yale Dining’s records for the last academic year, an average of 41 students swiped into Commons between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., with 29 of those swiping in before 8:30 p.m. By contrast, about 523 students swiped in between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. and another 221 on average swiped in between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Comments

  • silliwin01

    Now that the dining workers union has thrown its weight behind the “restore Commons dinner” movement, we’ll have it back by the start of spring semester at the latest.

  • cocitizen

    Saving from student food table would not make Yale more brilliant. Saving from wine on the food table of the upper echelons would.

  • Opinionated

    Let’s see…if I recall, most of the Freshmen (minus SM and TD) used to eat in Commons, along with the various athletic teams that practice late. This must account for about 25% of the student body. (So how did you accomodate the jocks? Make the coaches send ‘em in earlier, keep the college dining halls open later, or make ‘em all go out for pizza every night in town?)

    So, every dinner line in every college (except SM and TD?) can be expected to be 25% longer (meaning they will be more than 25% SLOWER, if we use queueing theory). And I’m sure all this is being done with fewer workers (y’all are about to find out that in corporate-speak that is known as ‘leveraging synergies’.)

    So, the customer gets slower service and worse food when they get there, but pay the same money (or more – how much is board going up this year?).

    I guess this is a good lesson for all you future titans of business about how to treat your customers, huh?

    Ad Sci 101: Winnin’ Business Strategies for Dummies

    Better get used to it, kids…

  • bytheway248

    This article left out the key reason to reopen Commons.

    As the staff becomes less burdened, ***the old tray system will surely be reinstituted at all colleges.***

    In fact, I bet the staff will demand it.

  • PhysicsAlum

    “She pointed out that although demand for food at the Morse and Stiles dining halls outpaced supply earlier in the fall, college masters mitigated the situation by putting restrictions on transfers from other colleges.”

    Translation: this system sucks.

  • CX

    “When you’re building a foundation, you have to start from the bottom, not the top,” Patricia James, a Jonathan Edwards College dining hall worker, said. “They should have asked us what we thought — at least we would have felt like we were important and a part of this.”

    What???? We should ask DINING HALL workers whether they want to serve dinner? Excuse you?

  • bytheway248

    ^^^
    I know. And what about the students?

  • River_Tam

    #occupycommons

  • lakia

    One little detail left out of this equation is the UNION WAGES and BENEFITS these people receive for doing their jobs. Jobs that require hard work, but little skill. Their unrealistic wages are what really drives up the cost of operating commons. Kind of ironic, huh?

  • River_Tam

    It’s already happening in California – unions are at each others’ throats (Nurses vs Teachers).

    #occupyanexemptjob

  • CX

    They need to fire the lot of them and replace them with any number of willing and able workers in this blighted town, lower their pay, and teach them to cook.

    I honestly think some of the “chefs” are blind or illiterate or both. That or they don’t know how to use measuring cups and timers.

    This does not apply to the HGS dining hall, whose workers are wonderfully friendly and whose food is delicious.

  • River_Tam

    @CX – what dining halls have you been eating at?

    JE, Silliman, and Morse/Stiles were always excellent in terms of food quality for me.

  • CX

    When Morse/Stiles can’t even get basic cheese pizza to taste NOT like cardboard, we have problems. But fine, I concede that food quality if not bad most of the time–we ARE a bit spoiled compared to everyone else.

  • JohnnyE

    >**JE,** Silliman, and Morse/Stiles were always excellent in terms of food quality for me.

    Really? Have you tried our chicken?

  • CX

    Yes thank you. The chicken breasts taste like erasers.

  • River_Tam

    @JohnnyE – Yes, I have! I disliked Trumbull the most in terms of food quality, although the friendliness of the staff there made up for it somewhat.

    Worst overall dining experience was in TD for me.

  • bcrosby

    So, I think that CX and River_Tam are missing the point here in a pretty big way. First of all, CX seems to be arguing that workers should have no say over their hours or working conditions. Really??

    More importantly, though, this seems to be one of many issues where the interests of Yale students and Yale workers are pretty perfectly aligned. Both we and the dining hall staff seem to be upset about the fact that this fairly important decision regarding either our working lives or our life as students was made with absolutely none of our input. I’m not surprised that the rightists who stalk the YDN comment boards are taking this and any excuse to bash the unions, but it wasn’t union leaders who changed the hours at Commons, and did so in an incredibly antidemocratic and opaque way. It was the Yale administration. And this isn’t the first time that the administration has treated either its students or its workers this way. We students, working by ourselves, have proven too unorganized to put any pressure on the administration to reverse the decision to close Commons for dinner or to have any real say in dining hall hours, or other decisions regarding student life. This seems like a place where we could work along with another of Yale University’s constituent groups (i.e., dining hall staff) to actually make our voices heard and hopefully even win some change.

  • PhysicsAlum

    Yale Students: “You’re closing Commons? That makes our life extremely difficult!”
    YDN Commenters: “CHANGE THE POLICY.”

    Yale Dining Workers: “You’re closing Commons? That makes our life extremely difficult!”
    YDN Commenters: “STFU, union!”

  • joey00

    Yale Commons had a big hiring ad in the paper two months ago,needing 20 workers or more.
    Something is missing from this story

  • JE14

    Would ppl support me if I went on hunger-strike? Willing to do it if it opens Commons again. (It probably would).

  • 2012YaleSM

    Commons will not reopen for dinner, especially as we are constructing new colleges with dining facilities in the vicinty. Commons only began serving dinner 13 years ago when the residential college renovations began, and students were displaced to swing space. Originally, yes, it served the freshmen, but in reality, many other dining facilities are closer to old campus and are perfectly capable of serving the freshmen dinner. With no dining halls closed, we don’t need an additional one open.

    Secondly, get over the stupid tray thing. Do you use a tray at home? Do you eat out of a trough at home? Didn’t think so. You don’t need to here, either. It wouldn’t kill you to get up once for dinner and once for dessert… and hey, maybe you won’t gain as much weight or waste as much food in the process. And if you need six plates of food to consider yourself satisfied, perhaps you should see a nutritional specialist for assistance; the service is free through the yale health plan.

  • River_Tam

    > Would ppl support me if I went on hunger-strike?

    Yes, but only because I think most Yalies could stand to lose a few pounds.