Indra Laloo is feeling hopeful about her work again. After being on furlough since March 2020, she and other Restaurant Associates contract workers have now been invited back until May.
Restaurant Associates, which is owned by Compass Group, is a contracted catering company that typically provides services in Prospect House, Palmer House, EQuad Café, Genomics Café, and Café 701. According to contract workers previously interviewed by The Daily Princetonian, at least 50 Restaurant Associates employees working for the University were placed on indefinite furlough during the week of March 12, 2020, including several individuals who had worked at the University for many years. Several furloughed Restaurant Associates employees reported struggling to pay for rent, groceries, and healthcare costs.
In early January, furloughed contract workers were invited back temporarily to help distribute meals in food trucks and bring food to students’ rooms during arrival quarantine. Deputy University Spokesperson Michael Hotchkiss told the ‘Prince’ then that the University was “pleased that Restaurant Associates was recently able to invite its full team to return to campus.”
Of the over 50 workers reportedly furloughed last March, 20 returned to work.
Laloo accepted the offer, hoping that the job would be extended soon, and handed out meals in a food truck by Brown and Dod Hall during the arrival quarantine period.
In a meeting on Jan. 27, a supervisor told workers that they would be invited back to work at the University for the entire spring semester. Hotchkiss confirmed this in an email to the ‘Prince’ last week.
“We appreciate the contributions the RA [Restaurant Associates] staff have made during the arrival quarantine period for returning undergraduates and are happy to say we have arranged with RA for their staff to continue to work on campus throughout the spring semester,” he wrote.
“With arrival quarantine ending, the RA staff will shift from supporting meal distribution sites to staffing tents that are providing additional dining areas for students,” he added.
Restaurant Associates previously deferred all comment to University Communications. However, a few weeks ago — before the offer to bring workers back until May was finalized — Restaurant Associates wrote a letter to the University and gave Hotchkiss permission to forward it to the ‘Prince.’ In the letter, the company pointed to its efforts to keep lines of communication “amidst a challenging situation with much uncertainty and understandable frustrations” and noted that Restaurant Associates had been “working closely with Campus Dining for months to explore ways to support our associate’s return-to-work.”
Elly Rivera, another Restaurant Associates employee who has returned, said she was grateful to be able to work again.
“I really love my job,” said Rivera. “I’m having a great time being back at work.”
For Laloo, the extension is a good sign that her employment prospects will continue to improve.
“We hope they keep us on until Prospect House can reopen,” she said. “We’re keeping our fingers crossed and looking forward to when that can happen.”
Though some workers, like Laloo and Rivera, were happy to return in January, others did not accept the initial offer. Speaking under the condition of anonymity, three contract workers told the ‘Prince’ they did not accept the initial offer out of concern for its then-temporary nature.
“I needed more permanent work,” one worker said in an interview conducted before the offer was extended until May.
Additionally, a second worker told the ‘Prince’ that the inflexibility of scheduled hours prevented them from taking the job.
“The offer didn’t work for me because the schedule was different from what I had before,” they said.
In response to this concern, Hotchkiss noted that the Restaurant Associates staff’s schedule “is based on our hours of operation in support of service for students.”
“Unfortunately, that means that we may not be able to meet scheduling needs in every case,” he noted.
Several contract workers told the ‘Prince’ last fall that Restaurant Associates had been unresponsive to emails and calls, and that they did not keep furloughed employees updated regularly. When interviewed recently, some contract workers said that the company has been more proactive in the past month — sending more emails and letters to its employees.
Still, these three workers first learned that the offer was extended until May when the ‘Prince’ reached out to them for comment and have not yet directly received information regarding the extended offer.
“I don’t have any information about that, because no one told me anything,” said the third worker, who was in the process of submitting paperwork and background checks for a different job offer when the ‘Prince’ contacted them for comment regarding the extended offer from Restaurant Associates. “I am interested, and if they could contact me I would tell them when I am available.”
“They [Restaurant Associates] haven’t called us again [since they told us about the first offer],” said the second worker. They wondered if an offer may have been sent by mail and delayed in the snowstorms.
According to Hotchkiss, the offer to work on campus remains available to all Restaurant Associates staff — whether or not they chose to take the temporary January offer.
“The offer will remain through May for all the RA staff to return to campus,” he wrote.
Editor’s Note: The ‘Prince’ granted anonymity to several workers interviewed for fear of retaliation. This story was also published in Spanish here.