Staff undergo temporary reshuffling while students are away

By Katie Futterman

Van Barth

When the majority of students left Middlebury for winter break, leaving just 23 students on campus for the dining halls to feed in December, dining hall staffers were left with little work. As a solution, the college offered these staffers the option to temporarily work in other departments, which allowed them to avoid using up their Combined Time Off (CTO) during the break.

Staff members accumulate CTO the longer they work at Middlebury, and it can be used for vacation time or sick leave. Those who did not opt for positions in other departments will be required to use CTO to account for the time off. 

Dining staff are currently helping across a range of departments, including Grounds and Custodial as well as at the Snow Bowl and Bread Loaf. There is also a “skeletal crew” working at Ross to feed the small number of students currently living on campus. 

Coordinating requested time off and scheduling new positions for 100 dining staffers was no easy feat. According to Dan Detora, director of dining services, staff were given the choice of where they would like to work, and Middlebury made efforts to put them in their preferred spot. 

Patti McCaffrey, a chef in Atwater, has worked in the kitchens of Middlebury for 22 years. After similar reshufflings last year, she had worked in the athletic center during the summer and was happy to return there for winter break.

The majority of the dining staff went to custodial services. The custodial team typically employs about 85 staffers, but this year it was down to about 65 during the fall semester after a hiring freeze that has been in place since last spring. The team has temporarily increased nearly twofold this winter with the addition of dining staff. 

The custodial staff usually cleans small houses and suites during the semester but did not do so this year due to their reduced numbers and the health risks presented by Covid-19. Now that most students are away from campus, staff has been busy cleaning these houses and suites and moving the belongings of students assigned to new rooms for the spring. As things have slowed down, the college wants employees who accumulated more than 80 hours of CTO by November 29, 2020 to take time off. This is to reduce the likelihood of staff taking such breaks in June and July instead, when the college anticipates there will be a lot more work to be done. 

Dan Celik is one of the custodial supervisors who has integrated teams of dining staff into facilities work. He also teaches an introductory course on cleaning, including safety aspects, PPE, chemicals to use and ergonomics to prevent injury. He has been busy teaching these classes to the dining staff members who recently joined the custodial team.

McCaffrey noted that Middlebury has been understanding about the difficulty of these changes. 

“There’s been no pressure at all. It’s been like, ‘work at your own pace, take lots of breaks,’” he said.  

According to Celik, everything has run smoothly, and the dining staff has successfully integrated with the team. Still, the situation is not perfect. The dining staff were hired as cooks, and many would much rather do that. 

“For people who aren’t really happy about this, it’s a long enough time to not be doing what they really want to be doing,” McCaffrey said. 

The dining staffers have been able to maintain their same pay, and they will return to their regular dining positions for the spring semester.