Tower Café student workers claim underpayment, Dining Services director pledges investigation

Student workers, activists and Tufts Dining workers are pictured on Curtis Street outside Tufts Dining Services offices after having spoken with Patti Klos about wage issues last Thursday afternoon. (Alexander Thompson / The Tufts Daily)

Disclaimer: Austin Clementi is a news editor for the Tufts Daily. He was not involved in the writing or editing of this article.

Five Tower Café student workers have not received the compensation that they were promised this semester. Several of them confronted their manager, as well as  Director of Dining and Business Services Patti Klos about the issue last Thursday afternoon. Klos told the students that Tufts Dining would take action immediately.

Two students were shorted $24, and two more were shorted $30. A fifth claims she has not been paid almost $300. These claims are supported by a review of emails and pay slips by the Daily.

The impacted student workers from Tower Café led a group of more than a dozen student activists and Tufts Dining workers to bring their complaints to Arthur “Turo” Rigor da Eva, their manager, a full-time employee of Tufts Dining, shortly after 3 p.m on Thursday.

During a short conversation in the Commons Marketplace, Rigor da Eva told the students to see Klos.

After a brief walk, the students and workers filed into the Tufts Dining offices on Curtis Street.

Klos greeted the students and listened as they described their pay issues. She thanked the students for informing her and said she would look into the matter.

“I appreciate information being brought to us, and we will investigate promptly,” Klos told the Daily at the time.

The problems stem from raises Tufts student dining workers were supposed to receive at the beginning of this semester, according to emails from Tufts Dining managers that were reviewed by the Daily. These raises paralleled the rise of the Massachusetts minimum wage to $12 in January of this year.

General workers received a raise  from $11 an hour to $12, supervisors from $12.50 to $13 and managers from $13.50 to $14.

Student workers at Tower Café began to notice irregularities in their payment in February when Austin Clementi, a sophomore, was promoted from general worker to supervisor but did not receive the corresponding raise to $13, according to emails he provided to the Daily.

Gillian Davis, a senior and student manager at Tower Café, told the Daily she caught the error in early February and alerted Rigor da Eva, who then told Davis he filed the papers to correct the mistake. However, Clementi’s pay did not change. In early March, Rigor da Eva referred the issue to Tom O’Connor, Tufts Dining Services’ manager of staffing and training, according to the emails.

O’Connor responded two days later, saying that there had been an error and that Clementi would be given back pay, which Clementi says he received.

This episode led other workers at Tower Café to check their own wages, which is when Davis and two supervisors at Tower Café, Phoebe Yates and another student worker, discovered they did not get raises from the beginning of the semester either.

Yates, a first-year, and the other student worker continued to be paid $12.50, confirmed by the Daily’s review of their pay slips. Both estimated that this amounted to a loss of around $30 this semester.

Davis lost considerably more. She was a supervisor last semester but was promoted to a manager this semester. She should have been receiving $14 an hour, but she said every check since January has been for the previous supervisor wage, $12.50.

Davis said she works 9.5 hours a week, meaning she lost approximately $140 this semester in total, taking into account shifts she missed.

Two other general workers at Tower Café were also affected. Rose Wu, one of these students, said she has yet to be compensated for a training she did on March 28. A second general worker completed the same training and has yet to be paid, according to Clementi.

Wu, a first-year, told the Daily in an electronic message that this amounts to $24 in lost wages.

Wu said she thinks her underpayment was a simple error.

“It’s probably a careless mistake and I’m not sure if it is as serious,” Wu said.

Klos did not respond to additional inquiries about the results of the investigation into the students’ claims by press time.

It appears that the issues were contained to Tower Café. Three other students employed by Tufts Dining — Samee Mushtak, a junior who works at Dewick MacPhie Dining Center; Mia Lambert, a senior who works at the central kitchen and bakery; and Andrew Jefferies, a senior who works at Carmichael Dining Center — told the Daily that they have not had similar issues and that they were being correctly compensated.

Yates said she and the other impacted student workers want to be paid for the work that they have done, but that they also want to prevent irregularities like these in the future.

“Would anyone want to work at a job where they were promised a certain amount of money and ended up getting paid less than that amount?” Yates asked.

Davis said that this was not the first time she was underpaid. After a promotion to supervisor at the beginning of the spring 2017 semester, she did not receive the raise that that went with it and lost what she estimated to be over $100.

After complaining to Melody Vuong, associate director of retail dining and catering, in September 2018, Tufts Dining started to pay Davis the correct rate and paid her back for the week she had worked so far that semester. However, Davis told the Daily that she has still not received back pay for the semesters of underpayment before then.

Davis also pointed to the experience of one of her co-workers who was underpaid last semester and caught the error but did receive back pay.

Davis and Yates said that part of the problem is that only managers are informed of the wages for each position — not the general workers or supervisors — which makes catching underpayment difficult.

Both Yates and Davis work at Tower Café as part of the Federal Work-Study program.

“I buy my food with this money, I pay part of my rent with this money, it’s part of my financial aid package. This money matters to me, this money allows me to stay at this school,” Davis said. “To not be getting what I was promised … It’s not giving people the respect that they deserve.”

Yates expressed frustration that she had to go all the way to the director of dining services to get the problem fixed.

“Should I really be marching [into Klos’s office]? I’m willing to do it, but it should be a little bit easier than that,” she said.

Yates has worked at Tower Café since September 2018 and Davis has spent almost five semesters brewing coffee and selling muffins at the café, and both of them say that they love their co-workers and have enjoyed their jobs.

“I’ve been really happy to work here for the past three years, but part of that being really happy to work there is the fact that it has contributed to my livelihood,” Davis said.