Dining Services faces understaffing

%0AA+NMU+Dining+Services+employee+refills+a+condiment+station+in+the+Northern+Lights+Dining+facility.++Although+NMU+Dining+Services+is+the+biggest+employer+of+students+on+campus%2C+it+currently+faces+understaffing+issues.++Photo+by%3A+Kat+Torreano

A NMU Dining Services employee refills a condiment station in the Northern Lights Dining facility. Although NMU Dining Services is the biggest employer of students on campus, it currently faces understaffing issues. Photo by: Kat Torreano

Kelsii Kyto

The biggest employer on campus stems from the NMU Dining Services. Currently, there are only 241 employees at the new Northern Lights Dining facility, and the understaffing has created issues with employees, NMU Dining Director Sharon
Carey said.

Multiple NMU Dining student workers have struggled with the lack of employees, which affects the facilities’ efficiency, specifically at the Lights.

Senior English major Joshua Payne worked as a custodial supervisor for NMU Dining for four years starting in 2014, and decided he did not want to be employed with them after the new building was unveiled.

“For lack of a better term, it has been terrible,” Payne said.
Many times, Payne said he had to work over the amount of hours he requested. Sometimes he would be scheduled from 8 to 11 p.m. and not finish work
until 2 a.m.

“The reason they’re understaffed is because they’re incompetent in picking the correct people, and incompetent in controlling the people they have now,” he said.

Payne said many workers were improperly trained, and would attempt to clean up grease with water, creating more problems for the janitorial crew. Many times, they wouldn’t use proper trash bags for their respective trash cans, he added.

“You have to be careful with what you do so you don’t contaminate certain areas,” Payne said.

Chelsea Freele, senior nursing major, has worked with NMU Dining for four years, and explained that despite challenges along the way, the pros outweigh the cons when working there. She is currently a student manager who does hiring, scheduling, training, disciplinary measures and finds solutions to problems identified within the facility.

The understaffing issue has affected employees like Freele, and when other people don’t come for their shifts, she said it tests workers’ patience and ability to adapt under pressure. She noted the difficulty with getting along with everyone, especially when most employees live right next door to each other.

“There are a lot of reasons NMU is understaffed. Since students are only in school for four or so years the turnover is usually pretty high with people graduating or getting internships their last years in school, which is understandable,” Freele said.

“There is also the issue of pay rate, which I will admit is low. Lastly, with a lot of campus undergoing renovation there were many changes that caused a lot of stress which led to a high turnover in the beginning of the semester.”

Senior athletic training major and Northern Lights Dining Student Trainer Owen Mills has been working for NMU Dining for almost four years, and said he has experienced many ups and downs.

“[There were] many rough shifts and many great shifts,” Mills said. “NMU Dining has truly helped me grow as a person and has taught me countless skills and ideas that I will continue to use throughout the rest of my life.”

Being understaffed puts a lot of pressure on the employees who show up, Mills said, and he said it can turn a normally easy shift into a difficult and stressful one and it can turn a closing shift into a long night.

“As with any other job, there will be adversity and challenges. People not showing up for shifts or just being short staffed in general are probably the biggest challenges I have had to face, but it is something you can learn from and will overall make you a better person in the end,” Mills said.

Mills believes that the dining facilities are understaffed because of rumors that working conditions are not favorable and the job is not enjoyable, and many students don’t give NMU Dining a chance. He said working at the facilities gave him an opportunity to make new friends and learn valuable life skills. It’s on-campus location also makes it very convenient for NMU students, he added.

“I am not going to lie to you, there are a lot of pros and cons of this job, some days are not as good as others, you may go home frustrated after work and you will have days you don’t want to come back,” Mills said. “But the good severely outweighs the bad. I have been working here my entire college career and have not
regretted it.”

The new facility will need more bodies in order to run successfully,
Carey said.

The delay of the new Northern Lights Dining facility contributed to many students leaving, because of the added stress of working around construction, NMU Dining Associate Director Paul Schoonveld said.

“Of course in the start of the school year, we had some turbulence,” Schoonveld said.

“What was once a problem, I think we’re ahead of at this point,” Schoonveld said. “That turbulent time truly was a ripple effect for us. And not a positive ripple effect, it was a negative ripple.”

Many students quit when the stress of school life becomes too much, Carey added.

The understaffing issue affects all of the workers who show up to every shift, Carey said.

“When two people call in and there is one left, they might work one shift like that–but it was pretty brutal,” Schoonveld added.
In focus groups held with employees, many employees were concerned about flexible scheduling, Carey said.

“They’re more concerned about creating relationships and feeling that they’re part of the organization,” Carey said. “We’re not up at that high level that we aspire to be at, but every day we’re starting that climb and that ascend.”

Payne further claimed a toxic work environment influenced his decision to quit.

“This job tested me emotionally and mentally. It’s filled with negative emotions. I just want to say, don’t be scared to quit a job that would be eager to replace you in a matter of minutes,” Payne said. “Mental health is more important than money.”

In response to allegations made by Payne, Schoonveld said it’s important to find out more about problems happening at NMU Dining so that they can be fixed.

“In general, we have a zero tolerance for any kind of discrimination in dining and across this campus as a whole. We take those allegations extremely seriously. We work directly with human resources and [the] equal opportunity office on campus to sometimes investigate those allegations,” Schoonveld said. “We want a culture that our students feel safe, regardless of anything. They should feel safe and comfortable in their work environment.”

NMU Dining did a minimum wage increase last January, and they continue to assess whether they are in the right ballpark for wages in comparison to the community, Schoonveld said.

“I think right now, it’s working, but we continue to assess,” Schoonveld said.

Despite the problems Freele identified, though, she values the opportunities she had with NMU Dining.

“Overall, the challenges help you critique and improve these skills for when you enter the real work world after college,”
Freele said.

In regards to problems that employees have experienced at NMU Dining, Schoonveld apologized for those experiences.

“The problems of yesterday are not today’s problems, and the problems of today are not tomorrow’s,” Schoonveld said. “I think we’re truly committed to that
statement.”