As Yale Dining workers and University administrators discuss concerns about the relocation of certain dining services to the new Culinary Support Center, some dining employees are also expressing unease about their chances of being injured on the job.
At the start of the semester, the University moved cold food production to the CSC in an effort to increase efficiency. In the wake of the move, Silliman chef Stuart Comen submitted a letter in the form of a paid advertisement to the News expressing dissatisfaction with the CSC on many counts, including food quality, working conditions and job preservation. Many other Yale Dining workers have also voiced their discontent through the Local 35 union, which represents the University’s blue-collar workers.
Injuries in dining services are not entirely uncommon. Still, workers fear that moving to the CSC has exacerbated the risk of job-related harm.
Workers said there is a particular mismatch between their abilities and the tasks that are expected of them.
“We are carrying things that are way too heavy,” said a CSC pantry worker who wished to remain anonymous due to concerns over job security.
But Yale Dining administrators have defended the CSC’s safety record, arguing that the facility and the department’s procedures are designed to ensure workers’ safety.
According to the worker, the increased risks of working in the CSC stem mainly from the large volume of food that workers are now tasked with preparing each day.
Comen said many of the older workers at the CSC are ill-fitted for the increased physicality of their jobs at the new center.
“It is just a young person’s job,” Comen said. “I was 20 years old when I was doing the vegetable job.”
Comen added that morale has been low among dining hall staff this year, largely because head pantry workers who serve as leaders in the kitchen are now two miles away from campus.
The anonymous pantry worker said there are some workers who were in quieter positions before moving to the CSC, such as in the dining hall in the Divinity School, but are now given tasks they are unable to handle. The youngest head pantry worker is 41 years old and the oldest are in their early 70s or late 60s, she said.
Just this week, she said, workers were expected to lift, wash and prepare nearly 480 pounds of cucumbers — an amount that will only last all the dining halls until Wednesday. Other days, workers have been responsible for mixing 30-gallon batches of salad dressing. As a result, she said, some workers are considering early retirement.
Several workers also alleged that Yale Dining administrators have not lived up to their commitments of providing workers with the necessary support.
“[Executive Director of Yale Dining Rafi Taherian] had promised us when we first started working that he would get some general services assistants and some men to be in the room to help lift items,” said the worker. “They aren’t there.”
She added that Yale Dining administrators told pantry workers that in instances in which they were lifting items over their weight restriction of 25 pounds, they could raise their hand to receive support — but this plan has not become reality.
A second anonymous CSC worker noted that the crowded physical space of the center also leads to increased risk of injury.
According to a third anonymous worker, who is part of the catering team, the space that was initially designated for catering operations when the center was built last spring has been decreased with the relocation of all head pantry workers to the location.
Still, University Director of Culinary Excellence Ron DeSantis said there is plenty of room for workers since shifts can be staggered to allow for ample space, noting that some workers arrive at 6 a.m. and another wave arrives at 8 a.m.
Taherian said that Yale Dining works with Yale’s Environmental Health and Safety group and equipment manufacturers to ensure safety at the CSC.
“The CSC has been designed to state-of-the-art safety standards, and we are committed to ensuring that employee safety there will be even better than in other dining operations,” Taherian said.
He added that Yale Dining recognizes that food service jobs can be physically demanding and the University works to accommodate staff members when feasible.
University Director of Labor Relations Jane Savage said that for privacy reasons, she could not comment on specific instances of injuries at the CSC. However, Taherian said that there is currently only one CSC worker who is on workers’ compensation, which replaces wages and provides medical benefits in the event of a serious injury.
Regardless of workers’ apprehensions about the CSC, injuries in food services are part of the job, according to New Haven Office Manager for the Connecticut Workers’ Compensation Commission Dave Lawson, who works with injury claims.
“It is the nature of the job — the people are there for years and years using the same body parts. The floors can get slippery,” he said.
Lawson added that the incidence of injuries at Yale is not substantially different from that at other universities, noting that the injuries for which people file for workers’ compensation are typically minor.
Comen said that despite his criticism of the CSC, Yale does provide workers with non-skid shoes and has made safety a priority.
The first anonymous pantry worker also said there has been “ample” training for operating new machinery, adding that when she faced a minor injury, managers were sympathetic and helpful.
Still, the stress injuries that can occur at the CSC due to the repetitive nature of the jobs there are a cause for concern, Comen suggested. While workers in specific dining halls may have a diverse set of tasks, workers in the CSC often are completing the same action for an entire day.
The CSC is located at 344 Winchester Ave.,