Over the past month, the Tufts community has adapted to an altered campus life shaped by extensive health precautions and constraints. Tufts Dining also underwent a massive transformation, significantly expanding its operations and shifting to accommodate new campus health protocols and guidelines. The burden of this change, however, falls directly upon the shoulders of dining workers. Tufts has failed to provide sufficient resources, staff and training to support workers, leading to overworked staff and potentially unsafe working conditions. Dining workers’ health and well-being should not be jeopardized in order to keep dining operations afloat. Tufts must better support its valued dining workers by addressing hiring shortages and effectively onboarding new hires, offering in-depth training for current staff and addressing the health-related concerns of their workers.
Tufts Dining workers have faced a history of unjust treatment, including harassment by managers and, more recently, the reduction of staff this summer. This semester, pressures from the pandemic ramped up the scale and intensity of dining staff responsibilities. Not only do workers have to prepare and serve food, but they must also package meals and in some cases deliver meals to students. New technology intended to streamline the dining process has not succeeded in practice. The novel orders-to-go have led to incredibly long lines, missed meals and heightened stress for both dining workers and students. In a recent Facebook post, Tufts Dining wrote that “some delays have occurred while staff become accustomed to new service styles, procedures and technology.” However, attributing inefficiencies to dining workers amounts to a deep mischaracterization of the problem. Delays stem from Tufts’ policy failures, not any deficiency of dining hall staff.
Understaffing and undertraining are among the most dire of issues. As of Sept. 18, the university reported having 13-plus vacancies across its dining operations. Although university officials reported having filled or being in the final process of filling 11 of those positions, the initial understaffing exposed concerns in the way dining workers are trained in approaching COVID-19 regulations with regards to dining. Undertraining of staff has led to confusion about the new dining system, with workers left with little time to learn how to accommodate thousands of people each day under new procedures. As a result of struggling to meet these increased responsibilities, dining workers are left overworked, exhausted and frustrated.
Workers have also expressed health-related concerns. On Sept. 22, Hodgdon Food-on-the-Run closed after staff members learned that one of their co-workers was in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19. According to Christine Tringale, an assistant sous-chef at Hodgdon, there was widespread panic, and workers feared that if they left the facility they would face repercussions. Out of growing concerns for the comfort levels of workers, UNITE HERE Local 26, the workers’ union, quickly responded to the situation. Although the worker who had close contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 later reportedly tested negative, the incident demonstrates that Tufts Dining has inadequately prepared for its staff’s potential health-related concerns.
These practices reveal fundamental flaws within the Tufts Dining system. The burdens inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic should not fall upon the staff that works tirelessly to keep our campus running. Instead, Tufts must take responsibility for long lines and poor policy decisions by completing the hiring process for new staff and dedicating extra time to onboarding and supplementary training sessions for current and newly hired staff. Furthermore, in the midst of the pandemic, Tufts must listen to dining workers’ concerns and prioritize finding new solutions for adjusting to the circumstances of the university’s COVID-19 restrictions. Most importantly, dining workers should not have to choose between earning livable wages and safeguarding their health.
Dining hall workers are essential and valued members of our community, and they are entitled to safe and fair working conditions. As Tufts Dining adapts to the conditions of the pandemic, it must also prioritize the health and well-being of its workers. As members of the Tufts community, we must continue to stand in solidarity with dining staff members and urge administrators to meet their concerns and needs.