34 food service workers at Hampshire College to lose jobs by August

  • Donnie Blackwell, right, receiver for Bon Appétit at Hampshire College, escorts Sysco Foods driver Nick Elie making a delivery to the dining commons on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Cook Don Weickum prepares carrots in the kitchen of the Hampshire College Dining Commons on Wednesday, April 3, 2019. Weickum has worked at the college for 30 years. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Cook Jim Wyatt prepares cauliflower in the kitchen of the Hampshire College Dining Commons on Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF / KEVIN GUTTING

  • Donnie Blackwell, receiver for Bon Appetit at Hampshire College, stocks a delivery in one of the coolers at the dining commons on Wednesday. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 4/3/2019 5:27:27 PM

AMHERST — On Wednesday, 34 food service workers at Hampshire College were informed that come Aug. 1, they will no longer have jobs.

The news was delivered to the employees at the college’s on-campus café, Bon Appétit, which is run by Bon Appétit Management Company, a third-party contractor. Mary McEneany, the college’s treasurer and vice president for finance and administration, on Tuesday had informed the leaders of the food service workers’ union — the only union on campus — that the college would not renew its contract with Bon Appétit this fall.

“We’re not getting severance packages or anything like that,” said Donnie Blackwell, a Bon Appétit staffer and vice president of the union. “People are losing their jobs. The people on the bottom are always affected, and we’re not just stats.”

Jim Wyatt, the union president, has worked in food services at Hampshire for 20 years and worries that he and other older staffers will have trouble finding work.

“I’m not kidding myself,” the 64-year-old said of the difficult prospects of finding a new job.

The decision comes as many college employees anxiously await the announcement of layoffs later this month as Hampshire’s administrators seek a partner institution to keep the college afloat financially. Though there has been momentum behind a plan to keep Hampshire independent and avoid layoffs, Hampshire’s president, Miriam “Mim” Nelson, has suggested that pink slips are inevitable after college leaders voted on Feb. 1 not to accept a full class this fall. The college relies on tuition for close to 90 percent of its revenue.

“Moving through the FY20 budgeting process is very difficult in light of our projected enrollment, but in order for the College to remain viable, we must make difficult choices,” Nelson wrote in a March 22 letter to local lawmakers who asked her to prevent layoffs. “This includes a reduction of our work force and frank discussions about how best to position the College moving forward.”

In a statement to campus last week, the dean of students confirmed that the college “will be shifting dining services to the Bridge Café, Kern Café, and the HampStore … To staff these locations, we’ll seek to employ more food service workers directly as Hampshire employees, including likely expanding our student workforce.”

‘Second round’

Food service workers are not the only ones facing job loss this month. College spokesman John Courtmanche said that a “second round” of layoffs would be coming “by the end of April.” In February, Nelson announced that nine full-time employees in Hampshire’s admissions and advancement offices will be let go effective April 19.

For the college’s approximately 250 staff, the past several weeks have been filled with uncertainty.

“Anticipatory bereavement” is how Amy Halliday, the gallery director at the Harold Johnson Library, described the feeling among staff like herself.

“I think it feels hard that staff might be the first to disappear when they’re so much a part of the fabric of what makes this place work,” she said. Halliday was quick to point out that not all staff agree on the direction they think the college should take, and some employees feel more vulnerable than others.

Some staff members have felt isolated amid talk of job loss, deciding to keep their heads down and look for other employment, Halliday said. Many, however, have found ways to connect with one another, she added. They’ve shown up for potlucks at the art gallery or have poured their energy into efforts like trying to re-envision Hampshire for the future.

“I do think that people who have found a way to either be together in their uncertainty, or to kind of actively be part of shaping a potential vision, I think for those people — and for myself included — there is a sense of hope, and momentum, and possibility,” Halliday said.

Other employees are more fearful.

In a letter responding to New Yorker writer Masha Gessen’s recent reporting on Hampshire’s situation, Associate Dean of Advising Laura Melbin pointed out that staff perspectives were completely absent from Gessen’s article. Many staff members are already doing two or more jobs, she said, and they worry that if they speak up, they will be the first to be let go in the upcoming layoffs.

As she pointed out, staff, unlike faculty, have no contracts and “no voice.” For that reason, Melbin believes “we will suffer the majority impact. Unlike the students and faculty, we can’t speak out.”

Many staff members declined to speak to the Gazette or did not respond to requests for comment.

In a Feb. 25 letter to the Hampshire community, the Staff Advocacy Committee, which represents staff concerns on campus, wrote that they were dismayed to see administrators, faculty, students and alumni all fail to adequately listen to staff concerns when making decisions.

“Staff have borne the brunt of Hampshire’s financial instability for decades,” the letter reads, adding that staff members already have faced layoffs, austerity and job changes, and have “much to lose” in discussions about the college’s future.

“We have no contracts, a history of stagnant wages, irregular performance review procedures, and disenfranchisement in decision making that directly impacts our ability to negotiate fair severance packages or improvements to our work lives,” the letter goes on to say, urging the Hampshire community to seek out staff perspectives.

Unlike the Bon Appétit employees, Courtmanche said staff employed directly by the college will receive severance pay “based upon their years of service and signing a release of claims agreement.” Those employees will be given 60 days written notice of any layoff, he added.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.
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