What is usually a 20-minute drive to campus took Yale Dining employee Keshia Sullins three hours on Thursday’s snow-covered morning.
Sullins was one of the many Yale employees who struggled to make it to campus last week after a snowstorm brought nearly a foot of snow to the Elm City and surrounding suburbs. Although New Haven Public Schools, Quinnipiac University and other nearby institutions closed down, giving many of their employees the day off, Yale decided to continue operating after closely monitoring the forecast the day before. While professors had the option of canceling classes, employees in “critical positions” – including public safety, acute care and food service – were expected to show up for their shifts.
“This is a condition of their employment and made clear at time of hire,” Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Mike Peel said in an email. “Typically, that means living closer to campus and/or having transportation arrangements fully equipped for road conditions in a broad range of snow and ice conditions.”
Peel added staff in non-critical positions, such as those in administrative jobs where the work is deferrable, could elect to use paid time off last week when inclement weather posed a safety hazard to their commute. Staff members are allotted 10 to 25 days of paid time off per year, and unused time off accumulates over the years. The average Yale employee has accumulated more than 25 days in their paid time off bank, Peel said.
Yale employees in critical services said they understand that coming to work despite difficult road conditions is part of their job. Still, Sullins said she was frustrated that she had to risk her own safety to come to work.
“We care about the kids, but we have to jeopardize ourselves to get here,” Sullins said. “Regardless of the weather, we have to provide the service.”
Instead of requiring staff to brave the storm, Sullins suggested that a student executive board should organize and take care of food service when dining hall workers cannot easily commute to work. She explained that students could be assigned to a particular residential college to ensure that students got food during inclement weather.
Although the exact numbers are not available, Director of Residential Dining Cathy Van Dyke SOM ’86 said in an email that many dining staff could not make it to work on Thursday both because they were taking care of children whose schools were closed and because they could not safely commute to campus. Due to the staff shortage, some employees worked from the breakfast shift through the dinner shift for overtime pay.
“The sense of ownership and pride is very high in Yale Dining, and their resolve has been tested through recent weather contingencies,” she said. “Having an additional challenge from the weather is actually a boost to employee morale — they like to show that they can put the food on the table no matter what,” she said.
Despite the challenges posed by inclement weather, Van Dyke said Yale Dining employees go to great lengths to ensure service is delivered to students during emergencies.
Staff shortages also caused workers to adjust their typical standards. In Jonathan Edwards College, the staff turned to paper plates and cups because many employees in the dish room did not make it to campus, and some dining halls modified their Thursday dinner menu and Friday lunch menu.
Aside from food service, staff performing other essential functions, such as public safety, were required to report to work.
Assistant Chief of Police Mike Patten said Yale Security was fully staffed last week.
“Those of us who work in public safety do whatever it takes to keep the campus safe,” Patten said. “We are proud of our personnel who braved the storms to protect our community.”
Yale Dining is responsible for serving over 14,000 meals per day.