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Dining hall staff members sleep in Frist MPR in preparation for blizzard

University dining staff slept in the multipurpose room of Frist Campus Center in preparation for the blizzard expected to strike campus the morning of March 14, named "Winter Storm Stella" by the Weather Channel.

To protect dining hall staff, the ‘Prince’ will not reveal workers’ identities.


Members of the dining staff of all six residential colleges used cots brought over from Dillon Gymnasium to sleep. According to one staff member, this is not the first time dining hall staffers have slept on campus in preparation for a storm or other inclement weather event. In previous instances, a staff member said, workers have slept in Dillon Gym.

Other workers preparing meals in Forbes College explained that accommodations for them overnight were not all in Frist. One woman stayed in the Graduate College overnight.

The University was closed on March 14 for non-essential personnel until 5 p.m. According to a University press release, classes and exams scheduled to begin after noon were to be held as planned.

“I was nervous to drive through the snow, so when they asked me to stay over here I said, ‘Definitely, yes,’ because it's safer to stay here than to drive through the snow. We have to be here for the students. I didn't stay in Forbes — they put me up at another college,” said another worker.

Director of Media Relations John Cramer explained in an email statement that this has happened in previous storms, but that this is the first time Frist has been used as an “overnight shelter for employees, although it was previously used to shelter graduate students whose homes lost power.” Both hurricanes Irene and Sandy were events where staff members stayed on campus overnight. He explained that different weather events require different responses. 

“Our emergency preparedness and response plans include setting up shelters for essential staff who need to stay overnight in order to provide necessary services or emergency response,” Cramer wrote in an email. “Staff shelters have been occasionally set up in Frist or Dillon to accommodate staff from Campus Dining, Facilities, Public Safety and other departments.”

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"It’s routine or not unusual to ask people to sleep in Dillon or various offices," Cramer said in a phone interview. 

Additionally, Cramer said that managers stayed in hotels two to a room on Route 1. There were no hotel accommodations left in the town. In the past, he said, managers and staff have stayed at Nassau Inn and Palmer House during emergencies. 

According to the Services Employees’ International Union Local 175 contract, employees designated as “essential services employees” are notified by Nov. 15 of each year. Their jobs “are necessary to keep the University open and running when emergency conditions exist.” This agreement between the University and the Local 175 is valid from July 22, 2013 to July 1, 2018 and covers dining hall staff.

The contract further states in Article 33, Section 1A, that “Essential services employees are expected to work hours outside their regular schedules when notified of the necessity by their departments.” When working in these conditions, “these staff members will be paid premium rates.”

The University later added clarifications regarding the accommodations to their statement.

According to Cramer, dining staff who slept in Frist and the Graduate College did so voluntarily.

“Several team members went home last night,” he wrote in a second emailed statement. “The emergency shelter was set up at Frist MPR as a venue for employees who made the decision to stay here.”

Cramer explained in an email that, in agreement with their contract, the 35 employees who slept in Frist MPR and the Graduate College received an overtime pay rate, or “sleep pay,” specified as one and half times their usual pay rate.

Additionally, “because the University closed as of 5 a.m. ... the employees receive double time pay between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. when the University will reopen,” he wrote.

Students walking out of Frist said that they were shocked that dining hall staff were sleeping there. They explained that they saw a staff member they knew in Frist wearing pajama pants.

“I can’t believe they’re sleeping here,” one student said. “They have families.”

When asked how they felt about sleeping at Frist, dining hall staff members said that they felt fine.

“If we go, we’re not going to come back,” one worker said. “You have to take care of the students. That’s why we do it.”

Some of the workers said that they drive to campus every day and that they live around 15 to 25 minutes away. One worker said that they had been told Monday afternoon that they would be sleeping in Frist. Another worker, who explained that he was hired recently, said that he didn’t know if he was being paid overtime.

“I ain’t used to this,” he said, adding that he “wouldn’t know” if he was being paid overtime. “I just know I’m getting paid.”

He said he thought that it was mandatory to sleep on campus.

“They told me I had to show up and I showed up,” he said. “I know we’re getting paid, don’t know if it’s overtime.”

Another worker said that University staff came around to the residential college dining halls on Monday afternoon to ask them if they wanted to stay on campus.

“They just came around and asked if we wanted to stay,” he said.

Workers said that they plan to wake up at 5:30 a.m. in order to be in the dining halls by 6 a.m.

“We have to prepare for lunch and dinner, too,” a worker explained.

A facilities worker explained that because he had a four-wheel drive vehicle, he was able to drive to campus at 3 a.m. this morning.

“They let me drive in early, those who didn’t just slept here overnight. Especially the cooks because they gotta cook for y’all," he explained. “But they’re paying me extra, so it ain’t like I'm coming in for free."

Deputy Director of Campus Venue Services Marguerite Vera has not yet responded to requests for comment.

This story has been updated with added information regarding where staff members were staying and information regarding the workers' contracts. This story has further been updated with a second emailed statement from Director of Media Relations John Cramer.

Science Senior Writer Samvida Venkatesh contributed reporting.