A long line stretches from the entrance of the Porter/Kresge Dining Hall to Porter B. Laughter echoes, Passion Orange Guava juice flows, dishes clank. The lunch rush is beginning for a dining hall worker at the Porter/Kresge Dining Hall.
Students gather to feast on Allergen-Free Halal Chicken and catch up with friends before afternoon classes. The employee, who chose to withhold their name to mitigate the possibility of retaliation scrambles to assist with meal preparation, food service, and to log their coworkers’ hours.
Workers are essential to the function of UC Santa Cruz’s dining halls. Due to a hiring shortage, however, they are few and far between.
“It feels like we’re having three people do a job that should be done with maybe five or six,” the employee said. “Or, we’re having to move people around a lot and rely more on the full-time staff when, in reality, the more tedious things should be delegated to our student employees.”
A dining hall employee since 2021, they first noticed a shortage of workers at the start of this school year.
In 2019, the total number of student employees across all dining facilities on campus was approximately 1,100. That number has since dropped to 600, according to Bill Prime, the Executive Director of Dining at UCSC. In 2019, 160 career staffers and 50 managers helped run the 12 dining units that were open. Although he hopes to increase these numbers to 200 and 60 respectively, Prime did not identify the current number of career staffers at UCSC.
Prime attributes this decrease to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had so much momentum in 2019, and 2020 just crushed us,” Prime said.
The anonymous student worker, who makes $16.50 per hour, predicts that low wages play a significant role in deterring students and full-time job seekers alike from seeking employment at on-campus dining facilities.
Currently, student employees earn a base wage of $15.50 per hour – California’s minimum wage. Career staff wages start at $21.00 per hour.
“I just think that [people] are probably searching for more opportunities in town, if they can find them,” they said. “What we’re getting paid is not at all enough to support a living.”
Employee retention is also a significant challenge in the source’s eyes. Even if a candidate is recruited, there is no guarantee they will commit to their position for a long period of time. This is especially true of student employees, who must maintain a balance between their academics and work life.
Although the dining hall allows its employees to create their own schedules, it is preferred that everyone take at least one weekend shift and one closing shift per week.
“It’s difficult to manage classes and a work schedule,” they said. “We try to have as many people as we can for closing shifts, but nobody ever wants to work until midnight.”
Alana Sparks, a second-year student employee at Porter/Kresge Dining Hall, spoke about high turnover rates among students who apply for dining hall jobs.
“I feel like a lot of students will get the job in the dining hall and then quit after a quarter or a few months because it’s really hands on,” Sparks said. “You’re working with the food, you’re on your feet; there’s not really much time to just sit around and chill.”
To combat staffing shortages, Prime and his team hosted two Culinary and Food Service Hiring Fairs: one in July 2022, and another on Jan. 27 and 28 of 2023. At the fairs, applicants interviewed for positions on-site, and could even be hired the day of. Participants were also given $75 gift cards for attending.
Prior to the first fair, Dining Services worked alongside AFSCME Local 3299, the union that represents dining hall workers on campus, to raise wages for employees. Full-time workers also receive full benefits: medical, vision, dental, holiday pay, vacation and sick time, a retirement plan, and free meals.
According to Prime, both events were highly successful for scouting full-time chefs, shift managers, and coordinators. He hopes to host another event during the spring to prepare for the reopening of the Rachel Carson/Oakes Dining Hall, which is set to open during fall 2023 after three years of construction.
Prime also expressed interest in supplying jobs to local food service workers whose employment was impacted by the recent storm. Despite the obstacles Dining Services currently faces, Prime remains hopeful that facilities will bounce back.
“I have fond memories of all of our venues open,” Prime said. “We’ve been trying to get back to that glory.”
While administration works to fill the empty dining staff positions, their absence is felt in the long lines, increased wait times, hungry students, and overburdened workers.
For students working in the dining hall, Sparks said that providing longer shifts for workers and higher wages would be extremely beneficial.
“Working at the dining hall is […] one of the hardest [work-study jobs],” Sparks said. “So, I feel like our wages should equal the work that we put in.”