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UWM asking employees to volunteer at understaffed all-you-can-eat dining halls

UW-Milwaukee pleaded for volunteers to "prepare, serve and support the dining experience in the UWM residence halls."
UWM
Posted at 6:49 AM, Sep 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-06 18:22:23-04

MILWAUKEE — UW-Milwaukee launched a new program that allows students to eat as much as they'd like across three dining halls. It's part of an effort to address food insecurity.

Kyle Abts and Sarah Trejo Nava are excited to kick the school year off, but are even more happy with the new anytime dining plan.

It allows students with a residential dining plan to enter any residential dining hall and eat as often as they want.

There's just one problem. The university doesn't have enough employees to staff the "Anytime Dining Plan."

So, in an email to employees, the university pleaded for volunteers to "prepare, serve and support the dining experience in the UWM residence halls."

Here are some of the program's details:

  • You can sign up for a four-hour shift but the university said they will take whatever amount of time you can spare
  • The volunteer position is unpaid
  • Residential Dining staff may be eligible for overtime pay and may not be eligible for the volunteer program.

The "Anytime Dining Plan" is the first new dining model at UWM in more than 25 years, the university said. Residential students can eat any time the three dining halls are open and eat as much or as little as they'd like.

The program was developed with students, the Student Housing Administrative Council, and various UWM campus departments.

"The goals of this change align with goals in the Student Affairs strategic plan and the effort to make UWM a radically welcoming place for our students," UWM said.

"This plan directly addresses food insecurity issues among our residential student population. It will enable the dining team to expand the hours for food access in the dining halls and sets the stage for more options to accommodate special dietary needs," according to the university.

Eric Lohman is the president of the union representing UWM faculty staff. He calls the email insulting.

"We're always asked to do more with less. We're always the ones that have to fill in the gaps," Lohman said. "Rather than attracting workers with better wages, working conditions, and benefits they instead asked already underpaid overworked teachers to volunteer."

In a statement, the university said students typically wait to apply for these campus jobs until after they are on campus. So, while UWM waits to hire students, it did ask for help from other departments.

Something the school says is not uncommon.

"They know that teachers will do this work or other type of work for free to meet the needs of the students we care so much about," Lohman said.

That's why Lohman believes teachers at UWM will step up, but he says there is a solution to the problem.

"If you want workers to work in dining halls you should pay them a livable wage," he said.

UWM wanted to make clear that there is plenty of staff to feed students. Volunteers would be used for restocking and serving food.

Read the university's letter to staff.

A UW-Milwaukee spokesperson issued the following statement to TMJ4 News:

"We have used volunteers for the past two years to help with dining operations while we bring student workers on board. As background, before COVID, about 80% of our student workers in dining operations returned each year, and we only had to hire 20% new. Since COVID, we’ve had about 20% return each year, which means each fall (2020, 2021 and 2022), we’ve had to hire 80% or more. This takes time to do, as many students don’t think about applying for a campus job until they are on campus in the fall. To give us time to hire, we’ve asked workers who could spare some time from their regular duties or free time to help with dining operations while we fill positions.

In 2020 and 2021, the volunteers came mostly from within dining operations and units that had reduced hours or services due to COVID. This year, all our dining and food retail locations are open for the first time since COVID began, and those workers are needed in their regular units. That’s why we are seeking help from other departments.

It is important to recognize that volunteers from other departments are temporarily doing the work of student workers, such as busing tables, while we are in the process of hiring more student employees. They are not replacements for full-time or student workers or doing the work of skilled chefs.

We also want to emphasize that we have enough full-time, skilled restaurant operations professionals to feed our student body. The volunteers are doing other work, such as restocking and serving food, to support our skilled restaurant operations professionals so that they can focus on providing the best experience possible for our students. It’s not uncommon at UWM to have employees temporarily help in another unit, such as happens each year with Move-In. This is merely another facet of that."

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