Fordham’s Treatment of Laid-off Dining Staff Is Disrespectful

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By THE OBSERVER EDITORIAL BOARD

Foodservice workers have always played an unassuming yet vital role in keeping universities — and the country at large — running. They put their lives at risk to serve us food, and, at the very least, they deserve our respect. 

Yet the foodservice workers at Fordham have not been treated with respect. Employees of two of the most beloved dining spaces at Fordham Lincoln Center, Argo Tea and the Ram Café, were recently laid off with only a day’s notice. Though layoffs have been happening since the onset of the pandemic in March, these employees were hired back in August under the impression that they would keep their jobs through the end of the semester. They were let go again a month later.

Even if the layoffs were not anticipated, Fordham, or Aramark, the foodservice provider Fordham has a contract with, should have had a plan to support these essential workers. Fordham Dining issued 312 meal plans compared to last year’s 577; they should have predicted that business would decrease. This information was readily available to them at the beginning of the semester. 

We understand that Fordham as an institution is struggling, but as an employer, it should be transparent with its employees. Allowing Aramark to lay off Ram Café and Argo Tea workers with such short notice, especially after Fordham closed its doors for months without business, is inconsiderate. This decision comes at the fault of both the Fordham administration and Aramark, which could both benefit from increased communication and transparency between each other and their employees. 

During this time of economic struggle, Fordham has a moral obligation to see what resources it can extend to these laid-off workers.

As an Aramark contractor, Fordham cannot hire these workers back. Fordham also can’t force students to come back to campus to necessitate full employment of the laid-off workers. But does this mean that Fordham should be a passive bystander and not do anything to help these invaluable members of our community? Of course not. 

During this time of economic struggle, Fordham has a moral obligation to see what resources it can extend to these laid-off workers. This includes giving them access to the Office of Career Services, digital library and Campus Ministry resources. 

In an interview with The Observer on Sept. 5, after being asked whether Fordham was planning to lower the number of employees and by how much, Deming Yaun, university dining contract liaison, replied, “All dining related expenses will have to be evaluated once all the data is reviewed. Services and the cost of them will have to be adjusted based on income the department has to work with for the semester.” 

The layoffs were likely a planned decision, despite claims from University President the Rev. Joseph M. McShane, S.J., in a University Update on May 5, 2020, that Fordham was “staving off layoffs.”

In order for Fordham to truly show that it cares about its employees, it needs to hold itself accountable. For an institution to hold itself accountable, there are two steps: identifying what went wrong and following up with actions to show that it has learned. It is not enough for Fordham’s administration to come out with a statement saying how sorry they are. Fordham needs to provide adequate resources to these employees to make up for it. It is irresponsible of Fordham to treat these employees and their personal lives as disposable during a pandemic. At the end of the day, the Ram Café and Argo staff are a part of the Ramily, and right now Fordham is not treating them as such.