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Friday, March 31, 2023

University of Minnesota pays gig workers more than full-time staff to fill dining hall jobs

Mick Kelly claims that there has never been a staffing shortage in the University of Minnesota dining halls. He has spent 20 years working as a chef at the university.

On the university’s Twin Cities campus alone, more over 120 out of the 300 available positions are unfilled. Due to a labor shortage, the institution had to shorten dining hall hours and reduce some food options. In response to protests from students, the university subsequently offered partial reimbursements for the months of September and October.

Kelly said, “It’s never been like this.” “In actuality, these are low-paying employment. That’s how easy it is. People don’t want to work here as a result.

With two years of experience, a new cook begins at less than $20 per hour. Many other people who work in dining halls make less than $16 per hour. According to the university’s own data, employees who work in cafeteria services and other campus operations positions often make 13% less than the going wage.

The university’s cafeteria management have turned to gig workers to fill a large number of roles, paying them up to 35% more per hour than full-time employees. However, there is a lack of gig workers as well, so dining services has made a deal with a firm to bring in over 30 workers from out of state while covering their hotel and flight costs.

The university’s dining halls are run by a private corporation called Chartwells, and according to Dawn Aubrey, vice president of operations, “they’re quite pricey.” Simply put, the area lacked enough temporary labor.

The struggles of the institution serve as an example of the state’s labor scarcity and historically low unemployment rate, which fell to 1.8% in September, the lowest level ever seen in the United States.

After years of stagnation, the ongoing labor scarcity and high inflation are driving up wages, with some of the greatest increases going to lower paid service employees. Even while new hires receive raises, devoted staff feel left behind.

Higher-quality health insurance, a pension, and paid time off are available to full-time university employees who are members of Teamsters Local 320. Tensions between the university and its service personnel have increased as a result of the institution’s temporary workers outpaying full-time staff on an hourly basis.

According to a recent poll, many university service staff members struggle to make ends meet and buy groceries. One in ten university employees have been homeless at some point.

According to Kelly, this shows that the University of Minnesota has more than enough money to pay Teamsters a livable wage but instead chose to recruit temporary staff as a stopgap measure, which is absolutely not a solution.

Before approving a new three-year contract on Thursday that raises the minimum pay from $15 to $20 an hour, some 1,500 unionized service employees on the university’s five campuses threatened to strike last month.

The university’s labor shortfall will probably be lessened by a higher minimum wage, but the employees are dubious that $20 an hour would be enough to replenish their ranks and anticipate that the usage of temporary workers will persist.

During difficult labor talks, the use of temp employees sparked concerns about union-busting. This assumption was increased by the fact that, even as dining managers hired temporary workers, not all available union positions at the university were being advertised.

The dining services are being managed by new people. Despite the fact that the university employs the full-time dining hall personnel, its managers are employed by a private contractor: Chartwells, a division of the British multinational food service corporation Compass Group, which took over administration of dining services in April.

The university prefers to have dining facilities manned solely by full-time employees, according to a representative who referred inquiries concerning recruiting procedures, training, and pay to Chartwells.

Jake Ricker, the director of public relations at the University of Minnesota, stated in an email that “university-employed cafeteria staff play a key part in our students’ experience.”

The claim that Chartwells wants to replace union workers with gig workers was vehemently refuted by Aubrey, the operations manager.

The Teamsters are preferred, Aubrey stated. “We believe that having Teamsters who are dedicated to the site full-time is quite valuable. That degree of dedication from temporary workers is hardly seen.

The 5% rise the university provided to workers as its “last, best, and last” offer before they decided to strike is far less than the increased minimum wage the union was able to get.

However, employees doubt that the $20 minimum salary will be sufficient to fill their ranks.

Cook at the institution for 22 years Mike Johnson said, “I don’t really believe that’s going to cure anything.” The minimum wage for institutional cookery is $20. yet they are still in limited supply everywhere, even hospitals.

Since Chartwells does not negotiate salaries with employees, Aubrey’s view was firmly impartial: “I feel that the university in good faith made the best offer that they could.”

Workers at the bottom of the salary range will benefit the most from the accord. Long-term employees who have reached the top of the payscale, like Sanchez, Johnson, and Kelly, will earn more moderate pay increases of 5% in the first year. That implies that they won’t be earning significantly more than new hires. Additionally, their 5% gain isn’t an increase in real terms because inflation is at a 40-year high slightly around 8%.

The amount should be more, but Sanchez expressed happiness for the workers making less than $20 per hour.

The university dining hall where Sanchez’s son works will raise his pay from $16 to $20.

You know, you are very fortunate that you just got promoted due of the union, I told her. Mom struggled for 23 years just to be where you are now,” Sanchez remarked.

Cedric Blackwater
Cedric Blackwater
Cedric is a journalist with over a decade of experience reporting on local US news, and touching on many global topics. He is currently the lead writer for Bulletin News.

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