It’s a long way across campus when the street lights are out.
For the Bon Appetit employees coming into work in the early morning for shifts at Usdan University Center, the current arrangement of staff parking privileges—along with poor treatment from Public Safety and University faculty—has amounted to what they find to be not only unfavorable treatment, but discrimination.
Citing safety concerns as well as a general disregard for Bon Appetit employees by Wesleyan University as main sources of frustration, four Bon Appetit employees who work in Usdan have explicitly expressed their discontent. Two have declined to be named or directly quoted.
According to the aforementioned Bon Appetit employees, Usdan workers are assigned to T Lot, adjacent to the Center for Film Studies. Although Public Safety has offered transportation services to and from the parking lot each morning, the time at which many employees must report to work—7 a.m. sharp—coincides with a shift change for Public Safety officers, leaving many with the sole option of walking across campus. The workers claim that this walk is unsafe as streetlights along the way are out.
Director of Public Safety Scott Rohde said he is aware of the issue with the streetlights.
“In terms of the concern with lighting, I did follow up with Physical Plant, to make sure they are aware of it, and I believe they said they are in the process of checking them and replacing them,” Rohde said. “I would be glad to talk with those staff, specifically. We do take safety seriously, and we have followed up with the lighting. We are working on it.”
Physical Plant did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.
One Bon Appetit employee feels that suitable parking for Usdan dining facilities workers was overlooked when the University Center became the home of the campus’s main dining hall in 2007. Previously, employees parked conveniently in the parking lot located on Vine Street. Now, when T Lot is full, employees are permitted to park in the Vine lot, though it is still a considerable distance from Usdan.
Rohde explained that parking availability is and has been a major concern on this campus.
“This is not a new issue,” Rohde said. “I think that people who work for Bon Appetit specifically for Usdan or in that immediate area would like to park adjacent to where they work in. Far more students are parking in that lot that are getting tickets…. Nothing gave me more heartburn than trying to accommodate all kinds of student parking demands. It’s really challenging, and down the road there are a few things we want to look at.”
Once parking assignments went into effect, many employees still parked in closer lots, feeling that their essentiality during the harsh weather of this past semester justified their actions. Debra Reagan, a Bon Appetit worker who has been at the University for over 25 years, explained her position in an email to The Argus.
“We felt that if we were important enough to call in as essential workers during a state snow event and risk the [treacherous] driving conditions…we deserved to park in the lot across from our work as we had been in the past without incident,” Reagan wrote. “The University has gone as far as chaining off the parking lots now so we have no choice.”
Reagan also recounted an incident between a co-worker and a Public Safety Officer.
“Shortly after the chains went up there was a incident involving two Bon Appetite employees and a public safety officer,” she wrote. “[They] asked, ‘Why do we have to wait for someone to unlock the lot? We have a handicap pass.’ He replied [that he is paid] to keep the undesirable Bon Appetite workers out of the parking lots. He also stated these lots were for the Wesleyan community only. Now, one would think that if you have been working on campus for twenty-seven years that you should be considered part of the community.”
She also has personal experience with alleged discrimination by a University professor.
“One of the professors [was] blatantly ignoring the fact that I was speaking to him not once but four times in a row,” Reagan wrote. “In my opinion I feel this has far surpassed a parking issue and is discriminatory.”
Though the location of Bon Appetit employees’ allotted parking spaces is troubling for some, especially those workers who come in earliest and leave late (excluding late-night employees, who are able to park at the loading dock behind Usdan), they have expressed more concern that their request and complaints are not being heard. As contracted employees of Bon Appetit, they feel that their treatment comes as a direct result of the fact that the University does not sign their paychecks.
Especially during this past winter, when Bon Appetit employees have had to come to work during bad weather—eight employees stayed the night during the blizzard in January, with 20 others walking to work or ignoring the driving ban—they feel that they have not been treated as equal members of the community. Bon Appetit employee Donna Liseo expressed her growing discontent.
“If there’s a snowstorm, we’re the ones that are here for the kids and cook for them all the time,” Liseo said. “As long as the school’s here, we’re going to be here. We are part of Wesleyan, and they say that we belong to Bon Appetit.”
Bon Appetit Resident District Manager Michael Strumpf was contacted for comment but did not respond by the time of publication. Associate Vice President for Finance Nathaniel Peters, who serves as a liaison between the campus and Bon Appetit, declined to comment.
Rohde agreed that parking at the University is limited, but he does not attribute the assignment of Bon Appetit employees to a conflict between University and contracted employees.
“[There are] in fact some administrative people in Usdan that are not assigned to [closer] lots,” he said. “I think you have a situation where someone has a perception of a conflict here…. Certainly from our perspective, it has not created a greater conflict…. It’s not that [Bon Appetit employees are] being treated as second-class citizens. It’s just simply not the case, and it’s a matter of space allocation.”
Bon Appetit employees also suggested improvements to the University’s parking policy. Two employees suggested a first-come-first-serve policy, where they could park in E Lot so long as spots were available. Often, they claim, there are open spots in that lot during the day, though if they are found parking in them they will receive a ticket. However, if the lot were to be full—these employees arrive on campus around noon—then they have no problem walking from T Lot.
A Wespeak published on Friday by a group of Bon Appetit workers addressed their proposal and current feelings of alienation.
“Wesleyan provides ample resources to both its students and administrative staff, and there is no reason that these simple measures cannot be provided to Bon Appetit workers,” the Wespeak reads.
Rohde addressed the needs that the E Lot currently serves for the University.
“The primary purpose of that lot that is being referenced here is administrative and staff use and visitor use,” he said.
Although Bon Appetit employees expressed frustration with their current parking situation, they emphasized their affection for the University.
“I’ve been working on campus for the past twenty seven years, and it’s been a wonderful job thus far,” Reagan wrote. “I have met many wonderful people. One of which is my closest friend. She graduated over 10 yrs ago. [sic] My job has also allowed me ample time off to spend with my two children.”
Speaking for herself and her colleagues, Liseo lauds her fellow members of the University community.
“We love to work here at Wesleyan,” she said. “We love the staff and the students. We need to focus in on the safety for the workers that support Usdan.”
Still, however, Reagan feels that the situation is unacceptable.
“I’m just personally feeling disrespected with all that has happened and I know I’m not alone with my concerns,” she wrote. “After all, just because one chooses to work in the food industry does not make them any less valuable as a human being. We all have different strengths and weaknesses and no one should ever be made to feel less than others, and unless we stop segregating our workers based on someone’s opinion of how unimportant a job they perform, how can we expect to have a healthy Wesleyan atmosphere for our future leaders?”