As campus dining staff, we work hard every day to make students feel at home away from their homes. We take a lot of pride in our work and enjoy our jobs in many ways. University students are generally polite, interesting to talk to, and a pleasure to serve. We know that they are under a lot of stress as they study for exams and write papers, and we’re glad to be able to brighten their day with broad smiles and tasty, nourishing meals. We are proud to support University students both physically and emotionally.
However, we don’t always feel respected by the University itself. When a snowstorm hit this past winter, essential campus dining staff — those of us who are required to come to work even when the campus is shut down — who didn’t want to drive through the storm were offered the opportunity to come to campus the night before. That was good, but the conditions workers found when we arrived were not.
One of our biggest concerns centers around our privacy. Princeton University is a very prestigious, wealthy institution, but when it put both male and female workers overnight in one big room without so much as dividers between cots, we didn’t feel like we were being treated with respect or dignity. It’s clear that the University administration put no thought into the workers’ overnight conditions.
There is also the issue that our coworkers were offered cots to sleep on. Who sleeps well on a cot? If the University wanted us to wake up early and do good work, they should have had us sleeping in beds in private rooms. Managers, alternatively, were given hotel rooms to stay in. Furthermore, the University arbitrarily declared that the storm was over at 5 p.m., right when many campus dining workers who serve during late meal begin their shifts. Those workers, who had to drive through a storm to get to work and drive on dark, icy roads to get home — or worse, rely on New Jersey Transit buses — were paid as if they were working just another shift. This is totally unfair.
We are committed and loyal to the University, but the treatment during the storm shows that the University is not committed and loyal to us. Without our work, the University could not run. Without our service, students would not have the quality of life that they do.
We very much appreciated that students were concerned about us and that The Daily Princetonian wrote about our treatment during the storm. We were impressed by the words of appreciation that we received from students after the snowstorm. The cards they sent us meant so much. We also admire the courage and thoughtfulness of the students who are organizing a march on Thursday to ask that the University pay nighttime workers double time for the hours worked on the days of the snowstorms this year and to never house workers in such poor conditions again. We are here for the students every day and we are glad to see that the students are here for us.
Christiana Augustine and Russell Weiss-Irwin, Campus Dining employees and shop stewards of SEIU Local 175