May 3, 2016

Cornell Dining Employees Concerned by Union’s Effect on Worker Motivation

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Cornell dining employees in its labor union raised concerns about ‘chronic worker problems’ and poor food quality in dining halls in advance of the triennial elections for the United Auto Workers today and the group’s contract renewal with the University in June.

The UAW, a union that protects employees in service and maintenance occupation at the University, will reach its contractual expiration on June 30 — an agreement held since 2012, according to their contract.

Dining hall employee and union member Zachary Winn said a “very unhealthy culture” has developed among union workers in the Cornell dining system, saying there is a “chronic worker problem” within the union.

“It’s impossible [for union members] to get fired … so, just being a bad employee isn’t enough,” Winn said.

This poor employee morale has profoundly impacted employees who work alongside those with chronic problem workers, according to Winn.

“Not only does it suck to have these people not do their jobs, but for somebody who does do their job — it makes it incredibly difficult,” he said.

Karen Brown, director of Campus Life Marketing and Communications, stressed the importance the department places on resolving employee issues amicably.

“Each personnel issue is taken very seriously, and we work to resolve each on an individual basis,” Brown said.

Molly Swertfager, central zone representative, said that, despite issues in employee incentives to work, “we need to start looking out for our members — all of our members, not just the people who get into trouble.”

“We’re required to protect everyone, we must protect against unjust punishment but it’s also an issue of when do you … start protecting the workers that have to deal with this chronic problem worker on a daily basis,” Swertfager said.

The University is employing non-union workers, such as students, to avoid the complexities of the union contract, according to Winn.

“They’re only getting paid $10 an hour and Cornell is lining their pockets with temp agencies just so they don’t have to [hire] any unions and pay them benefits and also risk hiring someone they can’t fire,” he said.

Mark Anbinder, web communications manager for Campus Life Marketing and Com­munications, said Cornell Dining hires temporary employees according to business demand.

“In dining, we use various forms of temporary labor including students, casual staff … and temp agency staff to supplement our regular workforce during peak business times — such as the lunch rush — or for special events, and to fill in for employee leaves and vacancies,” Anbinder said.

He added that employment is contingent on the workload of the eatery.

“Cornell Dining must also adapt to the business cycle in which we operate, a university environment that does not support all operations being open — or fully staffed — 12 months a year,” he said.

Brown also said Cornell Dining will increase meal plan costs for the next academic year — its first raise in three years.

“There are other expenses making up a meal swipe than just the actual cost of the food,” Brown said. “Preparing a wide variety of healthful cooked meals, cleaning up afterwards and employing staff, in addition to other costs, are factored in as well.”

In response to food quality at dining halls, Anbinder said the University is “proud of both the quality and variety of food that we serve.”

“I would say that we have compromised on neither — as indicated by the continued high marks we get each year in the Princeton Review and other independent ratings,” Anbinder said.

  • daily sun reader

    Instead of Cornell paying a fair, living wage they choose to market work like this:

  • Staff

    This is not a problem endemic to unionized workers at Cornell. This is a problem shared by all workers at Cornell. Staff are rarely held accountable and leadership is awful. Cornell HR does little to guide leaders on holding staff accountable. Instead, the culture perpetrated by Cornell leadership and Cornell HR is to be nice to everyone, care about everyone, stroke faculty egos, and don’t make waves. Those that go out of their way to produce results aren’t noticed, and those that kiss up and hug everyone are. There is a chronic worker problem at Cornell and VPHR Opperman has done little to ensure accountability anywhere. She contributes to the problem by hiding problems, moving around poor performers, taking care of bad staff and condoning a lethargic HR organization.

  • staff

    I couldn’t have stated it better myself.

  • Tuition

    It always seemed crazy to me that any student would agree to work for Cornell Dining. If you’re paying insane amounts to come here and have enough free time for a part time job, you should either take more classes and graduate even 1 semester sooner to save far more than you could ever make working for them. That, or pile on more teams/clubs/activities/academics to get the most out of it that tuition.

  • iv

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  • his is the email I originally sent to the Editor & Chief.

    Hello, Sofia.

    There is a lot of news worth reporting in Cornell Dining. The election for new leadership in the Union will be held on May 3rd. Molly Swirtfager, who I’m voting for, is specifically running on the platform of dealing with ‘Chronic Problem Workers.’ Once you are in the UAW Union at Cornell, it is virtually impossible to get fired. It is a huge problem. The things I witness on a daily basis would never fly in the private sector. I was told I was ‘Unfireable’ after I got through my 90 day probationary period.

    The upcoming expiration of the contract between Cornell & the UAW means a contract negotiation will be held this summer, I believe in June. Any contract that is hammered out and voted in will be binding for years. The Fight For 15 Minimum Wage increase is a hot tissue. Anyone in the union already gets at least $15 an hour. Will all 400 people who work in Dining get a $6 an hour raise? If not, and the minimum wage is increased before the contract is renegotiated, what happens to us? I had to work to get where I am. $15 an hour and Health Insurance. If we do get it, what will it do to the cost of Dining plans?

    Some context; I started in Cornell Dining as a Temp. A Temp is a temporary worker brought on through an agency. The first question someone asked me was, “How long are you gonna last?” In short, I was a good worker. I showed up on time and didn’t call in. Fast forward a year and change, I am in the Union and though my 90 day probationary period. Temps have a terrible reputation. They are unreliable. The Temp agency is billing Cornell $15 an hour and paying the worker $10 an hour.

    Cornell uses Temps and Student workers to supplement the Union workforce. Both of these programs are fundamentally flawed. Most Temps are Door Checkers & Dishwashers. They call in constantly. There is a chronic shortage of Dishwashers on West Campus. People from my house (Keeton) are shuffled around to other, more dysfunctional houses, to wash dishes. Three dishwashers from my house have refused to work at Bethe house because they go out there to work and the other dishwashers are pacing around & complaining. They are doing this because they can’t get fired. They are Chronic Problem Workers.

    Everyone who works in Cornell Dining is unhappy. The food quality is poor. The budget for the Dining system has not been raised in 3 years.As far as I know, the cost of a Dining plan has increased. Where is the money going? Corners are being cut. And yet, the Dining system generates a profit. To pay with a credit card it is $14.95. With a Dining plan I think it comes out to $13.87. Yet the per swipe food cost at Keeton is $3.03. That is a pretty standard 500% mark up. Yet the food is so mediocre, made by untalented union cooks who don’t care, that tons of it ends up in the trash. I once had a Chef tell me we weren’t trying to be the best. We were going for ‘Middle of the Road.’

    The management is completely out of touch. Working there is like witnessing a very slow trainwreck. I could keep writing, and keep telling you stories. I hope you have a sense of the interwoven issues plaguing Cornell Dining. I have my own opinions and thoughts. I can provide you with many very quotable people in positions higher than myself. I’d like to get you a copy of the Union Handbook. I can put you in touch with Molly Swirtfager.

    Please call me. -ZW

  • student

    Someone is finally speaking up. Thank you for this article, I hope this is the first spark of many steps that needs to be taken in order to improve this situation. From reading Winn’s comment, I don’t think raising the costs of the already expensive meal plans is a solution, we really can’t manage the 500% mar up any better?

    • Jenn

      Zachary Winn knows little about the costs workings of the field he is employed in. Sure the actual food may cost $3.00 a customer but then there’s labor, utilities, maintenance, etc. etc. The average cost of a buffet style meal such as the one Cornell offers is $12.37 plus tip. The average menu price meal for food that is of lesser quality for the most part that Cornell serves is $12.00 plus tip. Most of these places do not paying the people whom prepare these meals a living wage however Cornell does plus benefits.

      Zachary Winn is probably the most toxic narcissistic asshole I’ve ever had the displeasure of meeting. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCL36CFWBUzxiIk4O7QDjyoA

      • Eazy Ezra

        actually he did provide the same information you did, you are probably one of the suck ups I too am so familiar with.

  • Mike homza

    I was told by my boss if I went to hr with an issue I would never work in his kitchen again! I called hr with my problem with no response at all!!I was forced into going out on disability which took my position at Cornell away!