Kathleen M. Zieja: Tight, dedicated crew provides dining services at Smith College
To the editor:
I write in response to Bill Newman’s Oct. 5 column about Smith College dining employees. I have worked as a manager for Smith’s dining services for 36 years and as director of dining services for 18 years. In my tenure, I have witnessed and been involved with many of the changes in dining. On occasions when budgets were tight, we came together as a staff, with common goals and a common purpose, to figure out ways to provide quality food and service. We have fewer kitchens today, but by working with staff and implementing their ideas, we are able to offer options students want: vegan dining, “grab and go,” kosher and halal, and extended hours.
I have had the pleasure to hire just about all of our current staff, and we have a very low turnover. When vacancies occur, staff members encourage friends and family to apply. Applicants cite Smith’s wage rates, working conditions, work hours, and benefits — including our retirement program — as the reasons to work at the college. Food service jobs rarely offer this array of benefits. While we cannot promise work in the summer, it is often available to those who want it, as the college continues to expand summer programs and conferences.
Newman references a 1981 editorial regarding the pension provided for dining employees at that time. Subsequently, the college made changes to the pension and improved working situations for dining employees. I remain close friends with the woman who was president of Local 211 in 1981 and, to this day, she tells me how much she appreciated her working years at the college.
In discussions with other dining directors, it remains clear to me that Smith College provides strong wages, vacation and holiday time and benefits. We hire dedicated, creative, hardworking staff and retain them far longer than industry standards. We succeed because we work as a team. I have every confidence that a new contract will be approved shortly and that Smith will remain a top choice for those in the Valley who want to work in a respectful and professional dining services department.
Kathleen M. Zieja