It’s only 4:00pm, and a dull pain is already starting to work its way up Yolanda’s lower back. She may only take two breaks over the course of her eight-hour day, one ten minutes long and the other thirty, so timing is key; the chastened Sodexo employee must choose wisely. Soon, a barrage of hungry students will queue in the Eickhoff Hall vestibule, their faded identification cards in tow, and Yolanda will provide them with access to the eatery. By way of distraction, the pain will be temporarily alleviated. But it will still be there, lingering, and Yolanda will still be standing.
As a “card swiper,” Yolanda’s job requires that she remain basically stationary throughout her shift; for nearly eight hours, she is both immobile and upright. Why, I ask, can’t Yolanda – along with all the other dining hall “swipers” – get a chair? Or at least a stool? Could her duties not be performed just as satisfactorily while seated? It seems quite simple. What’s going on here?
“I need a chair!” exclaimed Valencia, another “swiper,” when asked for her take on the situation. She, too, must stand for nearly eight hours a day while manning the admittance station. And though Valencia has voiced her grievances to Eickhoff management, telling of the physical discomfort she has undergone, they haven’t budged. Swipers aren’t even permitted to exercise their legs while on the job, she said. “They don’t want you to move. They want you to stay there and look like a statue.”
It would be one thing if the no-seat policy were consistent across Sodexo-managed dining establishments at the College. But swipers at the Student Center food court, inexplicably, are allowed to sit during their shifts – on comfortable chairs, no less. Why the disparity?
Endeavoring to find out, I first inquired with Meghann Perry, Eickhoff Hall Service Manager. She directed me to John Higgins, General Manager for Sodexo at TCNJ – so I requested an interview via email.
What happened next could only be described as baffling. I happened to spot Higgins on the floor of the dining hall as he monitored that day’s lunch-time proceedings, and approached him with a question about the swiper-sitting policy. “I’m not talking to The Perspective,” he replied. When I asked why, he again said, “I’m not talking to The Perspective,” and briskly walked away.
Not to be outdone, another Perspective reporter went to Higgins’ office in pursuit of further comment – this time undercover. Higgins deflected any responsibility for the chair policy, saying that it was a matter to be taken up with the employees’ union, Local 54. The organization had requested not to speak about the issue with students, Higgins said. Bernard, the dining hall union representative, could not be reached for comment.
Why persist with this story? Simply put, we should demand basic fairness for campus workers. Chair or no chair, food service employees are already subjected to menial labor, less-than-desirable working conditions, and low pay. Advocating for small improvements, like allowing swipers to sit, might not seem like much – but for Yolanda and Valencia, it makes a huge difference. These are the people that serve us day in and day out – for once, we should be willing to serve them. Please contact John Higgins and ask that he work toward amending this unwarranted and inconsistent policy. If a change is made, The Perspective will be the first to offer him its praise.