Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
About a week or two into every semester, I am overcome with the urge to critique the University of Maryland’s dining halls. In the past, I’ve complained about the food and the lack of concern for student health conditions — but this time, I’ve got beef with the management.
Recently, non-union contractual dining hall workers have stated they would like more benefits, including sick leave and guaranteed future employment. But alas, this university’s Dining Services’ financial concerns prevented it from giving us a takeout dining option in the fall, remember?
Yet at the end of last semester, due to rising COVID-19 cases, this university’s dining halls made an emergency switch to takeout only. As we entered this semester, Dining Services gave students both a takeout option and a dine-in option for the first two weeks. This action showed that Dining Services’ concern about community health does outweigh its financial woes. Giving workers better benefits should also be prioritized because supporting employees is just an extension of stopping the spread of disease.
Dining Services has proven that it can handle both unplanned and planned expenses in the form of takeout options, and if it insists on removing the students takeout option, the very least it can do is improve employee compensation.
And it’s not like caring for workers is a bad investment, either. Not only are they literally essential workers, but they’re the backbone of the dining halls, doing what is absolutely necessary for the smooth operation of this campus community.
As for sick leave, it’s always a good idea to let people take time off when they might have something contagious. Going into the third year of a pandemic, I think most people who rely on the dining halls for their meals would feel a lot safer knowing that those who prepare and serve us every day are not being forced to come to work sick because their continued employment depends on it. Just think about the consequences if a dining hall employee came to work with COVID-19 and somehow spread it to students eating there.
Dining hall employees are also responsible for cleaning and sanitizing. Any time, let alone during a pandemic, it’s a good idea to make sure eating surfaces stay clean. Promoting someone to guaranteed full time employment so a few more hands can help with upkeep is a necessary investment — and one that some people might even be willing to pay a little more for in their dining plan.
Earlier this school year, Dining Services discussed a staffing shortages problem at a town hall held by the Resident Hall Association. I’m not a hiring genius, but maybe sprucing a job up with better benefits will attract more employees? Especially with the new dining hall on North Campus opening this fall, Dining Services is going to need even more workers. Won’t giving non-union employees full-time employment help with solving the staffing shortage issue?
However, if this university’s Dining Services still don’t want to treat workers a bit more fairly, let me propose a compromise. Instead of under compensating employees for their work, give them a little less work. Continue the takeout option and think about all the money you could save on dishwashing.
Oh, but you’re worried about the creative ways we’ll sneak out more food than our unlimited dining plans allow? Are the napkin and plastic fork hoarders costing more than expected? Then consider prioritizing this university’s relationship with workers. Now that Dining Services has proven expenses aren’t their sole concern, it should either continue to allow takeout options for convenience and health reasons, or they should give contractual workers more benefits.
Not doing so will prove university administration cares more about profits than supporting students’ and employees’ lives and that they are perfectly willing to be exploitative to employees and cause minor inconveniences to students just to earn a little bit back.
Jessica Ye is a sophomore government and politics and economics major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.