By Brooke Schultz
The loss of some summer conferences held at Washington College means some changes for the Dining Services staff this summer.
The lack of individuals on campus means it is not necessary to have the dining hall open throughout the summer. Despite this, “We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that the staff is not impacted,” said President Kurt Landgraf.
Landgraf, and Vice President for Finance and Administration Rahel Rosner, said that the goal is to retain the staff members by moving them to different campus departments.
Rosner said that the College was notified in November that the Johns Hopkins’s Center for Talented Youth program would not return because they wanted to be closer to their other programs on the western shore. The program usually lasted for about six weeks during the summer.
“In November, we went to our dining hall staff…We shared that, ‘We commit to those of you who want to be working at the College, we will find other jobs for you [on campus]. We’re going to ask where it is that you can see yourself and these options will include painting, housekeeping, and office positions,’” Rosner said.
Rosner said that the staff would be brought back on for the 2018-19 academic year.
In January, she said that administration provided the dining hall staff with a survey to fill out whether they wanted to take off for the summer—receiving 60 percent of their paycheck through the College’s unemployment policy—or find work somewhere else on campus.
“What we shared with them over the past few months was that by spring break, we’d have a good sense of what the placements would be. There is a commitment by the administration to find alternatives,” she said.
Don Stanwick, director of Dining Services, said that they were “well ahead” of the changes over the summer.
“From what I’ve seen, I think we’re still going to have enough [space on campus] to warrant [employment]. We’re going to find work for our full-time employees. We’re not going to let anyone go, or terminate positions. We will keep everyone actively employed,” he said.
For the dining hall staff members, the response was mixed.
“As long as they have somewhere for me to work, I don’t mind,” said Averie Somerville, a Kent County native. “But I don’t think they will. They say they’ll do something and won’t follow through with it.”
Somerville, who has worked at WC for two years, elected to be placed somewhere else over the summer because of a concern with pay.
“It feels like you’re stuck,” she said.
For Kareem Hackett, who has been at WC for eight years, he said he’s disappointed CTY isn’t coming back this year and that he won’t have a chance to see them.
“I’m not going to complain,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll go well. Some people probably don’t like it, but you got to do what you got to do. At first, I didn’t like it. But it’s a job—you have to do it or find something else.”
Hackett said that it is just about adapting to the temporary change and “seeing what happens.”
Veronica Jones-Isaacs, who has worked for WC for three years, said that she was “sort of worried” when they were notified of the change. Jones-Isaacs and her husband both need prescription medication, and she said she worried that, if she took unemployment, she would lose her insurance benefits. The College was receptive to her concerns, she said.
According to College Policies: Unemployment Insurance on the Human Resources webpage, “any former employee of the College may be eligible if the individual is involuntarily terminated from employment and has been employed by a participating employer in five consecutive quarters immediately prior to involuntary separation. It should be noted that employment during five quarters does not need to be entirely with one employer.”
She also had to consider if she would be able to afford receiving 60 percent of her paycheck, which she said she could not. Ultimately, she also decided to select placement elsewhere.
“They did let us know plenty of time ahead,” she said. “I feel confident they will try to find a place for me…I’m not going to get all worked up and negative.”
Rhonda Boyer, a Kent County native who has worked at the College for 22 years, said that she’s not really happy about the circumstances, but she’ll do what she has to do.
“They gave us enough time, but we’re still caught between a rock and a hard place,” she said.
While Rosner mentioned that the staff has a relatively generous vacation policy—two weeks for newer staff, four weeks for staff members who’ve worked at least six years—Boyer said that many staff members don’t have accumulated vacation time to take off during the summer, and still have to save time for winter break.
She also noted that, in her 22 years, this has never happened before.
“It’s not our fault that these groups cancelled,” she said.
She said that severance pay until the College came back “full force” would have been more helpful because it is unclear to them if working with these other departments will mean they get their full eight hours.
“In my 22 years, I’ve never seen the College allow [staff members] to draw from unemployment,” she said. “I don’t want to have to do this every summer. I think it’s cool that we don’t have to draw on unemployment.”
Kevin Brantly, catering chef who has worked at WC for seven years, said that he is not concerned about the changes and feels confident the College will find him placement in another department.
“It’s not permanent,” he said.
The loss of the programs during the summer costs about $200,000-$250,000. Rosner said they’re looking to replace those by marketing to different associations who have conferences over the summer and would want to be based on the Eastern Shore. According to the minutes from the February faculty meeting, Rosner said that this will eventually allow for the College to “offer conference services to programs geared at adults, which are more lucrative.”
“We’re going to protect [the staff]; it’s not fair to them,” Landgraf said.