Bon Appétit Management Company, which employs retail dining workers at Penn, will lay off their approximately 140-person staff by the end of the month without paying them for the remainder of the semester.
Bon Appétit, Penn's dining services provider since 2009, will pay retail dining workers through March 31, Penn Business Services spokesperson Barbara Lea-Kruger wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian. Lea-Kruger wrote, however, full-time residential dining workers at all-you-care-to-eat dining halls, who are employed by the University and not Bon Appétit, will continue to receive salary and benefits, as they are supporting "essential dining operations" amid the coronavirus outbreak.
John Preston, the secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 929, the union that represents Penn retail dining workers, said Bon Appétit typically lays off approximately 70% of their dining staff in the summer. Preston added, however, the sudden, unanticipated layoff without continued payment will cause financial hardship for the employees.
“Now [dining staff employed by Bon Appétit] are going to be having to decide whether to pay their electric or pay their rent,” Preston said. “It's a financial burden that the employees are experiencing by no cause of their own.”
Penn’s retail dining includes Houston Market, Pret a Manger, Joe's Café, and other cafes on campus where students use dining dollars. All-you-care-to-eat dining halls include Hill House, 1920 Commons, and Lauder College House. Preston said Falk Dining Commons staff are the only residential dining workers employed by Bon Appétit.
Shop steward of the union and Falk Dining Commons chef Troy Harris, who has worked in dining services at Penn for 20 years, said he was informed about the layoffs on Sunday and expects to be out of his job by Thursday without financial support from Bon Appétit.
“A lot of families are going to go through this suffering, and it's going to be financial and it's going to be mental,” Harris said.
Before the University moved all classes online and required students to leave campus for the rest of the semester, Gerald Williams, vice president of Teamsters Local 929, said the retail dining staff were originally scheduled to work through May 14.
Harris said a manager from Bon Appétit talked to the Falk dining staff on Sunday but did not mention any financial support for workers after the layoff.
“[Dining staff employed by Bon Appétit] really feel like the company has turned their back on them,” Harris said. “We work just as hard as the Penn workers do. We go above and beyond for the college.”
Lea-Kruger wrote that Penn Dining will reassess decisions on residential and retail dining operations based on the status of the COVID-19 situation in several weeks.
1920 Commons and Gourmet Grocer will be open to students and essential personnel working on campus beginning March 18, Lea-Kruger wrote. 1920 Commons will offer meals prepared for takeout only, and the number of customers who can enter the dining hall at one time will be limited to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the email read. Students on a dining plan can continue to use their swipes and dining dollars.
Williams said the decision not to pay laid-off staff did not come from the local Bon Appétit management but from the company that owns them, Compass Group.
Preston described Bon Appétit's decision to not pay their dining workers for the remainder of the semester as an “injustice," adding that he hopes the University will call on Compass Group to pay the laid-off dining staff.
“The people in high places should help the people that make the campus turn,” Harris said. “[Compass Group and Penn] should be at some roundtable right now making sure we're taken care of like the other workers.”
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