Bobs employees voice concerns on dining hall work conditions

A wide array of student activist organizations, like the Students Organized for Black and Latinx Unity and the Four Winds Native American Alliance, play important roles in protecting and advocating for the rights of certain groups at Colby. One group on campus, however, seems to be lacking an advocacy organization—Colby’s dining hall staff.

Colby used to have an active group called United for Better Dining Services which organized for dining hall workers’ rights by holding teach-ins, starting petitions, and advocating for stronger benefits. Now, the group appears to be inactive; there is no mention of the organization on Colby’s online list of clubs, and the last post on the group’s Facebook page dates all the way back to February of 2016.

On the club’s inactive website, however, there remains a compelling argument for why the dining hall workers deserve a student activist group that looks out for the workers’ best interests; in order for Colby to truly call itself one community, every individual’s rights must be protected from students, to faculty, to staff, to dining hall workers. How can the Colby affirmation really state that we are dedicated to the “well-being of all its members” if no one is organizing to protect dining hall workers?

A new student-led coalition for dining hall workers would already have its work cut out for it. An employee of Robert’s dining hall told The Echo that “what makes me so upset is that we do not have any air conditioning in the dish rooms in the dining halls. And Colby College is buying buildings in the town and spending money but nobody cares if we are dying in the heat or not.”

The employee explained that Robert’s dish room has just one window which can only be opened about a foot wide. In addition, the room has fans that are supposed to lower the high temperature caused by hot water, pots, and pans. But the employee stated that the room is still too hot in the summer and that “two cooks had to go to the hospital from overheating and two employees called OSHA [the Occupational Safety and Health Administration].”

The employee further explained that “I usually don’t work during the summer but I think it’s unfair because I can see people working in the dining halls very hard. A few years ago when they rebuilt Robert’s dining hall I asked if we would have air conditioning. And I was told no you will not because you will have dials on the floor to keep you cool. Of course there are no dials. But that’s what I was told.”

General Manager of Bon Appétit’s Dining Services Marietta A. Lamarre and Robert’s Director of Operations Mark Stamper deny the employee’s account that two cooks had to go to the hospital from overheating. Lamarre admitted that OSHA  was called but claimed the agency did not visit the school after PPD and the dining service communicated details of specific temperature-control equipment directly to them. 

Lamarre explained that PPD rather than Bon Appétit is responsible for the dining hall buildings themselves, including regarding issues such as ventilation and air conditioning. For Bon Appétit’s part, Lamarre explained that workers who are too hot are told to “take a break, sit down and drink some water. We’ve brought Gatorade over here and other things like that for them to drink. We’ve added fans—they’ve got a giant fan in [Robert’s dish room].”

Stamper further explained that “we feel we take very good care of our employees; we offer them benefits, we pay for their uniforms, they don’t have to wash their own uniforms, they get free meals, and they get regular breaks. In the hospitality business we are well above the curve for taking care of our employees”. Lamarre added that “they’re eligible for benefits, sick time pay, holiday pay, and bereavement pay. I just went to a meeting where [the school] thanked me for doing all the events for the Dare Northward capital campaign but I said ‘no it wasn’t me, it was my staff.’”

A student activist organization protecting the role of dining hall workers would be able to play an important role in talking to dining hall workers to confirm or deny the Robert’s employee’s allegation that two chefs had to be taken to the hospital from overheating.  As of now, without such a group, members of the Colby community will never be able to learn the truth.