Wikimedia Commons

Having pledged to pay all staff members through the month of April, Yale will decide later this month whether to continue with this policy should the government extend social distancing guidelines.

Though many students and faculty members have left Yale amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, some critical staff members continue to work on campus. Others are working from home, and still others are unable to perform their duties off-campus but are not needed on campus. A March 31 statement from Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Janet Lindner said that the University would continue to provide full pay and benefits through April 30, when the White House’s current social distancing rules are set to expire. 

The University is gathering information and will decide later this month what will happen to the workplace and pay guidelines after April, Lindner told the News in an email.

“Thanks to each of you for your spirit of engagement, compassion, and service,” Lindner wrote in her statement to Yale’s employees. “To those who continue to work on campus, including public safety and public health professionals, our deepest gratitude.”

Lindner’s March 31 statement was an update on a March 17 communication, which informed employees in the Local 34 union for Yale’s clerical and technical staff, as well as the Local 35 union for Yale’s service and maintenance staff, that employees who were required to report to work on campus “will be paid under the contract’s emergency closing provisions,” though she noted that the University is not closed.

According to the 2017 contract between the University and Local 34, staff who volunteer or are required to perform “critical functions” — those deemed necessary to the “life, health, safety and security functions” of the University — during a full or partial closing receive time-and-a-half pay.

Since March 20, Yale has urged most faculty and staff members to work at home, University Provost Scott Strobel wrote in a statement to Yale employees. All staff — including those who cannot perform their jobs during the COVID-19 crisis — will continue to be paid at least until April 30, Strobel told the News. 

But critical function staff who were expected to work on campus and did not report to work as directed would need to use paid time off, Lindner’s statement said.

Adam Millman, the senior director of Yale Hospitality, told the News in an email that Yale Dining is taking the necessary steps to protect the limited number of employees still working on campus. The directors of Yale’s facilities and security divisions did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

On Tuesday, the Harvard Crimson published a report detailing a loophole in Harvard’s COVID-19 compensation policies that would force employees who take sick or personal leave due to heightened risk for the coronavirus to go unpaid for the remainder of the school year. After employees who work in several of Harvard’s dining halls that remain open exhaust their sick days and vacation time they will not be paid until the end of the semester, the report said.

The policy forces Harvard dining hall staff to make the difficult decision between protecting the health of themselves and at-risk loved ones and continuing to make a living — a decision that poses a threat to the safety of both their families and fellow staff members.

Two Yale staff members — Richard Murgo, a refrigeration mechanic, and Jason Diggs, a rounds cook — explained that, to their knowledge, their unions precluded staff layoffs during this crisis.

“I was reassured [in a letter from Local 35 president Bob Proto] that everyone is still receiving their hired hours regardless of work and employees that do work are receiving time and a half for their services on the days that they do work,” Diggs told the News. 

The letter to all Local 35 members confirmed that the union’s members will continue to receive pay through the end of April, when the union and University will reassess this pay policy. 

Diggs added that dining hall staff with underlying health conditions or children at home were given the option not to go into work.

Murgo, who helps maintain the air conditioning and heating systems around campus, explained that the pandemic has made his work more critical. He works for his usual 10-hour shifts to ensure that Yale labs racing to investigate the novel coronavirus strain have functioning air conditioning systems to cool any computers or lasers in the lab. 

The University has reduced the number of staff that work on campus during the pandemic. Staff members who prepare food for the students who remain at Yale work at a culinary support center to avoid interacting with students. Other staff members transport the food from the kitchen and reheat it in Trumbull’s dining hall.

Yale sets a limit of three cooks allowed in each of three kitchens at the facility so staff can stay six feet apart. Joel Alberto, a cook for Yale Dining, said that while before the pandemic staff would produce food for about 9,000 people, now they cook for some 250.

Due to the decreased number of meals they must prepare, cooks work on a rotating schedule. Diggs explained he works for two or three days per week and Alberto said he works for two weeks before having a week off.

Diggs noted that the chefs had adopted more stringent sanitation measures during the pandemic, including wearing gloves and masks anywhere they produce food.

Alberto added that staff members extensively clean the door handles, walls, tables and floors.

Diggs explained that the pandemic afforded him the opportunity to show his dedication to his role and to offer students some comfort in the turbulent times of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“When everything’s bad, one of the good things to help people relax, get along, to forget about their problems is food,” Diggs said. “I looked at my coworker and I said, ‘Listen, people are away from their families, been moved around, we don’t know what’s going on week by week — let’s make them great food, let’s make them happy.’”

Rose Horowitch | rose.horowitch@yale.edu

Olivia Tucker | olivia.tucker@yale.edu