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Sodexo’s midway contract review leads to staffing cuts in DKT dining hall

Change is in the air at Sodexo on the UNB campus. At the same time as the midway review for their 10-year contract with UNB, Sodexo has also announced their plan to close the meal hall for Lady Dunn, Tibbits and Joy Kidd houses (DKT) this April as part of the university’s residence renovations.

In order to accommodate the closure of DKT, Sodexo and UNB Student Services announced by email at the beginning of February that the hours of both McConnell and McLeod dining halls will be extended, and that increased programs and services will be made available to students—including a self-serve waffle station at McLeod and a panini press at McConnell.

However, according to Shirley Cleave, acting assistant vice-president student services, the closure of DKT dining hall is contingent on the renovation plans for Tibbits and Tibbits East being approved by the Board of Governors this spring. If the approval is secured, renovations will begin as scheduled and the meal hall in DKT should be reopened by Sept. 2019.

“One of the realities is when you’re doing renovations—running a dining hall there doesn’t make a lot of sense, so better to run the other two with upgraded services. [The Board of Governors] won’t specifically say, ‘Yes, close the dining hall,’ but that’s part of the renovations,” said Cleave, who added that the decision to close the dining hall was made by both the university and Sodexo.

However, although the email from Sodexo and UNB Student Services assured that the closure at DKT would not have an impact on any permanent staff members, the data from Sodexo’s midway review has led to three part-time students at Sodexo meal hall having their shift hours stripped from them.

Numbers from midway review leave part-timers without shifts at DKT dining hall

Tibbits resident Caleb Thompson started working at DKT as a part-time dishwasher in October 2017, and was surprised when, on Jan. 22, all but one part-time employee lost their shifts at DKT dining hall, without warning. This was accompanied by a 50 per cent reduction in food spending, which is based on a lower number of students eating at the meal hall than in previous years.

These cuts are unrelated to the impending closure of the DKT meal hall.

“We had a problem last week where we had like a midway review and management saw that numbers from all across the campus for people who were going to meal hall or the SUB for food have been super low and the lowest they have been in years,” said Thompson.

“They cut back on hours [because of the numbers]. So normally there’s three people working in a dish room at Sodexo—there were two part timers and one full timer. They cut the hours of the two part timers including me [and] they cut another part timer out. Every part timer except for one had their hours cut so they were no longer working at DKT.”

According to Tim Thornton, general manager of Sodexo at UNB, reductions were made not only at DKT meal hall, but at Sodexo locations across campus.

“The staffing levels at all locations match the current customer levels at individual locations on campus. Staffing adjustments that have been made are not in any way correlated to the closure of the DKT dining hall in the spring.”

Losing your shift hours doesn’t mean losing your job at Sodexo, workers are still able to apply for jobs internally, like bartending events at the Aitken Centre or through Conference Services. But it’s the employees remaining at the dining hall that Thompson expressed the most concern for.

“I looked over the log book for last week and every single supper [my co-worker] had not been able to record the temperatures, except for the night that I was there,” said Thompson.

Thompson said he later learned temperatures only need to be checked a minimum of three times a day even though normally five are done, meaning the lack of a recorded temperature in the evening wouldn’t have failed any health regulations.

However, Thompson said his co-worker hadn’t been able to complete their other duties—taking the garbage bags out to the dumpster, a 20 minute process, and cleaning the remaining shelf of dirty dishes—on almost every night there was no part-timer working to help them out.

“The dish room is usually a two-person operation—one person puts them through the machine, the other person takes the flats out and puts the dishes away,” said Thompson.

“If you’ve only got one person you have to manage putting trays away, and putting dirty dishes into the machine. It’s a hassle going back and forth—not efficient. Some days [my coworker] had to stop the machine at 6:30 p.m. during clean up because there would be no time for her to end the shift and put all the dishes away.”

Cuts in part-timer hours make it harder on other employees to complete duties

“I’m one person,” said Thompson’s full-time co-worker, who agreed to speak to the Brunswickan if they could remain anonymous. “I had to do the dirty end [of dish line], I had to do the clean end, and the pots and the garbage. If we run out of milk, I have to replace the milk, the juice, the pops.”

“So it was just overloaded in work. Super overloaded—it was too much.”

Thompson’s coworker spoke to the Brunswickan around a week after Thompson gave his own interview, which was where he shared the news that he had managed to get his shift hours at DKT dining hall back.

“I mean like I can understand if they want to take one [part-timer] away because we weren’t that busy—for three of us in there, so I can understand how it would be beneficial to drop one. When they told me they were taking both, I wasn’t very happy about that,” said the co-worker.

After seeing the position his co-workers were in, and sharing their concern for the potential health hazards a job not done could create, Thompson sought a meeting with Thornton to express these thoughts.

Although Thompson’s meeting with Thornton provided him with his shift hours back, shifts were not returned to the other part-timers who lost their hours.

“If there’s a gap between management and the workers, and the workers are being overworked and they the management aren’t even caring, then the meal hall’s not going to run efficiently at all and the students are gonna suffer from it…I’m one of the students who has to eat there as well,” said Thompson.

Thompson has since resumed his Wednesday to Friday supper shifts, but his co-worker says that evenings with no part-time help are still a struggle.

“We’re almost done now so as long as I can keep Caleb for three days a week I can deal [with it] because Monday we have a part-time server who helps out in the kitchen. So he comes back and forth and helps me. So really it’s only the one day [Tuesday] that I have to have myself,” said Thompson’s co-worker.

According to Thompson’s co-worker, who works full time, it’s unlikely Sodexo will hire anyone else with DKT closing so soon, and given the circumstances, they’re looking forward to changing positions within the university’s Sodexo locations—unlike the part-timers, their seniority will secure a future work placement on-campus.  

“I’m looking forward to leaving—going somewhere else [with Sodexo on-campus] and I’m not going back to the dish room,” said Thompson, who’s been feeling overworked and overwhelmed with the new staffing adjustments.

UNB unaware of staffing cuts made in lieu of midway review process, which is unrelated to their consultation plans

Cleave said that Student Services was unaware of the specifics related to day-to-day Sodexo staff management, and was therefore unable to provide a comment on the cuts to part-time hours in DKT. According to Cleave, the UNB and Sodexo relationship is based on the contract signed between the two entities, which is currently undergoing its five-year review.

“When you write a contract, you have an idea in your head of how it’s going to play out, but just as anything drafted in language, sometimes there’s things you didn’t think about or changes in food preferences, student numbers,” said Cleave, who added that the five-year review was built in to the contract as a way to assess any major changes that have occurred.

“We’re not looking at renegotiating the contract, we’re looking at how well we’re implementing the current contract—so we’re inviting stakeholders, a variety of types, and we hired an outside consultant to facilitate the focus groups. So [the consultant] will do the interviews, lead the focus groups, prepare a report that will include recommendations, and that will help us decide the best way to implement it for the next five years.” 

Cleave said areas that will be looked at include food variety and quality, hours of availability and staff interactions, and also emphasized the open-ended nature of the questions, which she said was done to learn more about people’s experiences.

“You said that wasn’t working, could you tell us what might work better or why that doesn’t work for you?” said Cleave as an example of some questioning. “We’re looking at ways to get rich data that will give us the opportunity to sit down with Sodexo and say, ‘this seems to be a concern’ and figure out how to tackle that.”

Those interested in providing their feedback on UNB’s contract with Sodexo may do so for the remainder of this month, with all three services covered in the contract—dining halls, retail locations and catering services—up for review.

Photo by Maria Araujo.

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  1. Ella Reply

    The eeds to take the needs of its employees and its customers into consideration. If the staff is over worked they can’t provide quality and safe food. Then people will stop going to that specific meal hall and numbers will decline followed by more staff cuts and more overworked employees. It’s a negative feedback loop (no pun intended). To ensure the effectiveness of that meal hall one needs to support the team that supplies and serves at it. A clock cannot tell time with out all its cogs working together, if some of those cogs are missing, then time will stand still.

  2. John Robb Reply

    Are staff members Stakeholders who have a seat at the table for this review? Is the University ignoring the workers who deserve to be heard in a situation like this? Who knows better than the people working there?

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