Due to alleged policy violations and understaffing, Brown Dining Services has reportedly created an unfair working environment that takes advantage of students, according to five current and former BuDS student employees.
In response to these allegations, Director of Dining Services Peter Rossi wrote in an email to The Herald that “the program continues to thrive today. … The entire structure of (BuDS) is based on our appreciation for the fact that students at Brown are students first.”
“We are fully committed to working actively with our students to ensure that the program allows them to effectively balance their roles as students and as workers,” he added.
But according to multiple current and former BuDS employees who spoke to The Herald, BuDS supervisors and unit managers feel pressured to prioritize their jobs over schoolwork to ensure shifts are covered each day. In addition, BuDS employees claim that they consistently work more hours than they are obligated to, receive noncompetitive wages and are not compensated properly for their on-call hours.
On Sept. 22, former Carts Unit Manager Maxwell Kozlov ’20 resigned from his position in a public letter addressed to Ann Hoffman, the director of administration for Dining Services at the time, and other members of the BuDS community. Hoffman left her role in a mutual agreement with the University Sept. 28, according to Savanna Rilatos ’20, general manager of BuDS. Hoffman announced her plans to leave prior to receiving Kozlov’s letter, Rilatos added.
The University declined to comment on Hoffman’s departure.
In his letter, Kozlov hoped to ignite conversations about wages, working expectations and prioritizing academics. Kozlov criticized BuDS for advertising itself as the “HAPPIEST PLACE TO WORK ON EARTH.” His letter included a call to action for BuDS employees to evaluate the amount of hours students are working and whether or not these hours allow students to take advantage of “an absolutely one-of-a-kind opportunity to grow and learn,” at the University, Kozlov wrote.
“I’ve received more than 15 responses from current supervisors and (unit) managers empathizing with the work conditions I describe in my letter,” Kozlov told The Herald. Benjamin Spiegel ’21, a BuDS employee, decided to pull his application for a supervisor position after he read Kozlov’s letter.
But Kozlov’s call-to-action is not the first time a unit manager has pushed for policy changes, according to Katherine Jimenez ’20, a carts supervisor. Women and people of color have “spearheaded these movements,” she added.
“Wage proposals, reduced on-call (hours) and even shift meals for Carts workers have been proposed since Tionne Pete ’17 was general manager in 2016-17,” Jimenez wrote in an email to The Herald. Pete could not be reached for comment.
Dining Services breaks up campus dining into eight different units: Andrews Commons, the Blue Room, carts such as the Rockefeller Library Cafe, cashiers, catering preparation, dining, the Ivy Room and Josiah’s, Kozlov said. “Each unit has a critical number of supervisors, where, if below that number, the unit ceases to function cohesively,” Kozlov wrote in his resignation letter. As of Sept. 24, all eight units were at or below their critical numbers, Kozlov told The Herald.
Though “recruiting has been slower than usual this year,” Rossi said that “by early to mid-October, our staffing levels are typically in line with long-term needs of the program.”
Because of understaffing, BuDS supervisors and unit managers have had to take on extra shifts to ensure their units continue to function, according to Kozlov and Jimenez.
The University does not set a cap on the number of hours student employees are allowed to work during the school year, Rilatos said. Cornell, Penn, Yale and Harvard all either discourage or prohibit students from working more than 20 hours a week during the semester.
Supervisors generally work about 20 to 30 hours a week, according to multiple supervisors who spoke to The Herald. Five unit managers and supervisors told The Herald they have worked 40 hours in a week during shopping and reading periods — the University’s limit before mandating employees be paid an overtime salary to comply with federal guidelines, according to the Student Handbook.
“It’s a lot as a full-time student,” Kozlov said.
Pressure to prioritize work
Despite many unit managers and supervisors not wanting to work more than the 15 to 20 hours written in their job descriptions, they feel as if they must for their units to function.
“I’ve had to debate whether or not to write an essay or study for an exam or work a shift,” Jimenez said.
“Supervisors and unit managers alike feel an intense obligation for the unit, working countless extra hours at the expense of personal health to ensure the unit continues running, afraid to quit because we would be somehow burdening the rest of the team,” Kozlov wrote in his resignation letter.
While Dining Services doesn’t mandate students work extra hours, the administration “shames and talks down to people who don’t go above and beyond,” said Ben Bosis ’19, a former cashiers supervisor who resigned Sept. 15. But supervisors and unit managers are rarely fired “because BuDS needs them so badly,” Bosis added.
“There (are) people that really, really care about their units, managers, supervisors and other workers, which creates a toxic culture where people have to work more than they would like to for the sake of their unit,” Rilatos said. Currently, Dining Services is investigating how to cap supervisor hours so that students don’t have to work more than they want to, she added.
Some BuDS employees may not have the luxury of quitting because they rely on the income to support themselves and, in some cases, their families. “BuDs ends up exploiting students (who) need to work,” who are usually “lower income,” said a current BuDS employee who wishes to remain anonymous for fear of professional repercussions. “I rely on this job to pay my rent and my food bills.”
BuDS’ understaffing stems from the fact that the supervisor position is not competitive with other jobs on campus, Rilatos said. “Dining Services is work. You can’t get your homework done working the Wok line at Andrews,” Rilatos said, adding that other jobs on campus may pay higher salaries for positions that require less intensive labor.
“Wages are being looked at, and myself and many others are sitting in meetings daily advocating for higher wages for workers of all levels,” Rilatos said. The starting wage for BuDS workers is $10.60, while the starting wage for junior and senior supervisors is $1.50 and $1.75 over the base wage, respectively, according to Rilatos.
Because of the job’s unpopularity, Kozlov often felt the need to push workers to become supervisors. “I solely wanted people to become supervisors so I, and my team, could selfishly work fewer hours,” Kozlov wrote in his resignation letter. “I knew it was time to leave when I could no longer look fellow students in the eye and tell them how great it is to be a supervisor,” he added.
“I can count on one hand the amount of supervisor applications that have been rejected in the last two years. We sign up anyone who is silly enough to apply,” Kozlov told The Herald.
On-call policy violations
In addition to working and overseeing employees, supervisors and unit managers are required to sign up for on-call slots during which they could be asked to fill in for workers who miss their shifts. Depending on the unit, supervisors are either required to be 15 minutes away from campus or on campus during their on-call shift, according to Jimenez and Bosis.
Some student employees allege that BuDS is currently violating an administrative policy that mandates workers be paid for their time on call even if they aren’t called in to work in that time, according to Kozlov, Bosis, Jimenez and the two sources who asked to remain anonymous. When supervisors are on call, they are “considered to be working and must be compensated,” the policy states.
“I know for a fact we were explicitly expected to be on campus (but) were not compensated in any way” for that time, Bosis wrote in an email to The Herald.
Furthermore, “if an employee is called in to work, (they) must be paid for a minimum of three hours or the actual hours worked, whichever is greater,” the policy states.
“If we did get called in, we absolutely were only paid for as long as we worked,” which was usually only around 15 to 30 minutes, Bosis wrote.
“Senior leaders in Dining Services are actively working with the student management team on aspects related to work hours and compensation, and the details of the on-call system are certainly one part of that conversation,” wrote Director of News and Editorial Development Brian Clark in an email to The Herald. “As the University considers the potential for changes moving forward, Dining is working not just with the students directly, but with colleagues in Human Resources and other departments to review the current structure in the context of this specific policy and others.”
Members of the student management team of BuDS have brought this potential policy violation to the attention of Dining Services in the past, according to Jimenez and a BuDS employee who wishes to remain anonymous. Bosis said he plans to meet with Dining Services about the violations and will consider “consulting with a labor rights agency” or “filing a complaint with the U.S. Labor Department’s Wage and Hour division” if Dining Services refuses to consider compensation for on-call hours. Kozlov said he has been in touch with the University’s Human Resources department and spoke with the Rhode Island Labor Standards Department, who encouraged him to file a formal complaint.
In addition to discussing potential policy changes, Dining Services has also reduced “the number of late-night shifts students are working at two dining locations,” Rossi wrote in an email to The Herald.
Rilatos believes BuDS will see policy changes within the next two weeks. “I think people will be pretty happy” about the changes in store, she said.