Dining workers react to Tufts Distinction Awards, stress unfairness

The entrance of Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center is pictured. Michelle Li / The Tufts Daily

Tufts University President Anthony Monaco and Vice President for Human Resources Kim Ryan announced the winners of the Tufts Distinction Awards and the David J. Kahle Leadership Award in an email to Tufts faculty and staff on Oct. 20. Dewick-MacPhie Dining Center is one of the teams that won the award, and its current staff members are listed on the webpage as recipients and received letters of recognition. However, several workers who worked at Dewick — the only dining location operational after Tufts evacuated its campus in late March 2020 — last spring and summer, have expressed discontent with how the recipients were selected since moving to other locations.

Ginny DePalo and Alba Schiavone worked at Carmichael Dining Center before being summoned to Dewick during spring 2020 and returning to Carmichael in the fall. They believed Dewick was recognized for its operations during campus lockdown. However, DePalo and Schiavone, both of whom worked at Dewick during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, were upset to learn that neither of them were listed as award recipients.

DePalo and Schiavone explained that Dewick was mostly staffed by Carmichael workers during the lockdown, in addition to a few from Dewick and other dining locations.

“All these people came to work, and [the recipients] are supposed to be the names of them, not just Dewick people … almost nobody [listed as awardees] was there [last spring and summer],” Schiavone said. “Why then when they [sent] the letter [it was] to each one of them and not one of us?”

Patrick Collins, Tufts’ executive director of media relations, stressed that Dewick was awarded the distinction honor for comprehensive reasons.

“Winners, such as Dewick Dining, are selected because they have met the program’s high bar for excellence in a number of categories, including leadership, innovation, customer service, integrity, collaboration, respect for diverse perspectives and support for inclusion,” Collins wrote in an email to the Daily.

DePalo and Schiavone emphasized that Tufts Dining management had a clear idea of who worked during the lockdown yet still refused to recognize them. Collins stressed that the names listed were Dewick staff members as of spring 2021, and the list was carefully reviewed.

“The Dewick Dining team was the subject of multiple nominations, several of which included the names of the individuals who worked in the unit as of spring 2021,” Collins said. “Those names were reviewed to ensure those individuals worked in Dewick last academic year.”

Schiavone noted that she first learned about the award from one of her colleagues who works at Dewick and inquired whether Schiavone also received the letter of recognition. She was confounded by how underadvertised it was, and she and DePalo raised suspicion as a result.

“A friend [at Dewick] said to me … ‘Did somebody say congratulations?’, I said, ‘Congratulations for what?’” Schiavone said. “Nobody said nothing … no manager … the union, the shop stewards knew too, and nobody said nothing.”

DePalo was further frustrated by how difficult it was to find the list of award recipients in the email.

“[The list of award recipients] is kind of hidden in the email,” DePalo said. “You get to the bottom of the email, and it will say ‘award recipients.’ You actually have to hit that link to see who won it. So it was kind of hidden in there.”

DePalo and Schiavone believed they and their colleagues should be recognized because of the tremendous health risks they undertook by going to work last year, before the nature of COVID-19 was widely known and before vaccines were widely available.

“I have a daughter that is severely asthmatic, and I have a younger daughter that has cerebral palsy,” DePalo said. “And I still went into work every day.”

They emphasized that while workers were promised a week of break after each week of work, they would still get called in during their week off. When a person in the dining management contracted COVID-19, workers were given the option to go home; most who did, they noted, were Dewick employees.

DePalo stressed that her frustrated colleagues were asking for gratitude from Tufts for their hard work during a dangerous time, and not the award itself.

“Just give us a thank you,” DePalo said. “We put ourselves and our families at risk, not knowing anything about this virus at the time. Think about when we first started working down there: We weren’t even wearing these [masks].”

She noted that her daughter, Isabella DePalo, sent an email to five people including Monaco and Patti Klos, director of Dining and Business Services, on Oct. 26 to ask for an explanation. The email was signed by “The Families of Carmichael.” As of Nov. 15, she had not heard back from the email recipients.

On the subject of extra compensation for workers at Dewick last spring and summer, Collins explained that as Tufts Dining employees, they received their annual wage increase, and that recipients of the Distinction Awards would receive an additional bonus.

“All Tufts Dining employees received their scheduled wage increase as outlined in the collective bargaining agreement on July 1, 2021,” Collins said. “Separately, recipients of Distinction Awards will receive a small cash prize.”