March 4, 2022 | NEWS | By Jon Lamson
Facing low wages, overwork, and what they describe as a frequently toxic culture, Colorado College dining workers are the latest to join the ‘Great Resignation.’ Despite the hazards of working throughout a pandemic, many hourly dining workers have only seen their pay increase by less than a dollar over the past two years, according to several employees.
Of the 10 current and former Bon Appétit workers that spoke about these issues to The Catalyst, seven did so under the condition of anonymity due to fears of retaliation from management, or other professional consequences.
“They call us bodies or numbers. They don’t call us people,” a current dining worker of five years said. “Right now, I feel like we’re just numbers, and they’re dwindling hard because we’re not being paid enough for all the work we’re expected to do.”
Workers also said that low pay and overwork have caused the workplace culture to deteriorate. According to employee estimates, over 20 individuals have quit since the start of January.
Dining workers are not employed directly by the school. The college contracts its dining services through Bon Appétit, a subsidiary of Compass Group, the largest contract food-service company in the world.
“They kept promising us, ‘We’re gonna give you guys raises,’ and then after two years, 50 cents,” said a current Bon Appétit employee. “It’s embarrassing and humiliating to not be paid better when this company has the money to pay us.”
One employee of two years said that they worked throughout the pandemic at $14 per hour, never once receiving a raise. They quit this fall.
The reported issues of understaffing and constant pressure from management have taken a serious emotional toll on some workers.
“I’ve seen people break down and cry during shifts and had to go off during a slow time when the rush dies down and comfort a coworker because they’re crying due to stress,” one employee said.
“It’s truly the worst job I’ve ever had,” said a Bon Appétit employee of six years who says she recently quit in the middle of a shift after being verbally berated by the executive chef. “It was horrible. I’m so happy I quit.”
Within 24 hours of The Catalyst bringing these specific allegations to CC and Bon Appétit, this head chef was no longer employed in the position. The head chef didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.
This leaves Bon Appétit looking for yet another executive chef, their third within the past year. A representative for the company declined to comment on the specifics of this issue.
With the onset of the pandemic, Bon Appétit at CC furloughed 109 employees, most of whom were full-time, hourly workers. They then found themselves overworked and understaffed upon their return, said the employees that spoke with The Catalyst.
Many employees have felt pressured into working overtime, with some working 15 hours a day with few breaks, they said.
“I worked frequent overtime, and I very often worked six days a week.” said Eli Jackson, a former line cook for Bon Appétit who didn’t return after being furloughed by the company. “I was under the impression that I would lose my job.”
Despite risks of exposure to COVID-19, the company did not extend workers any additional hazard pay, even as multiple employees contracted the virus. Multiple employees spoke of a lack of transparency and communication from management throughout the process.
Over the recent months, conditions have declined even further, employees said.
“It just became a culture of fear,” said Josh Speckhals, a former lunch cook at Benji’s grill. “Just in January alone, I think 15 people quit? And that’s probably undercutting it… I lost my only team member.”
As more people have quit, the responsibility has fallen onto the remaining workers to pick up the slack, employees said.
“It was always like ‘Oh, Martha can do it’” said Martha Hernandez, a supervisor at Susie B’s who quit in December. “Yea, cool, I can, but for how long?”
This exodus of workers has contributed to a significant reduction in food options offered on campus. At The Preserve, the salad and sandwich station has been replaced by a scattered array of grab-and-go fruits and vegetables. In Rastall Dining Hall, one former food station has simply been replaced by a display of condiments. Sockeye salmon and prime rib specials are a thing of the past.
“The food last year, second semester, was pretty good,” said Chris Hampson, ‘24. “Now, I’ve seen nothing but shit… who the fuck wants a cheeseburger quesadilla three times a week? Nobody.”
For Speckhals, who said he was frequently covering jobs normally meant for multiple people, the decline in food offerings was demoralizing.
“I’m sorry but what’s being menued right now is not good. It’s not enough. There’s not enough variety,” said Speckhals. “It’s just like, what did we turn into, the stadium?”
Speckhals, who worked for Bon Appétit for over 10 years, quit last Friday. He doesn’t blame the people in management for the deterioration of the working conditions, but instead blames the larger corporate structure that has forced employees to work understaffed and underpaid.
“We’re pawns,” Speckhals said. “To get a sub-one dollar raise for a two year stretch of time, it’s like, I know they have money. It goes back to corporate. All that extra money, that’s just profit for corporate… it’s not for us.”
As dining workers struggle to pay rent, the executives at Compass Group are making off with millions. The corporation’s CEO and COO both made about $3.5 million in 2021, and received 4.5% raises for 2022.
Buzz Hofford, Bon Appétit’s district manager, declined to comment on many of the specifics of the workers’ claims.
“In accordance with Bon Appétit policy, I am not able to share confidential HR information about employee health and wages,” he said. “We continue to do our best to recruit and retain employees and look forward to the day that we are once again fully staffed.”
Shannon Wilson, Bon Appétit’s general manager at CC, said that the company has experienced increased levels of employee turnover, but also attributed this to national trends in the restaurant industry.
“Bon Appétit at Colorado College offers wage and benefits packages that are at the high end of the competitive market for the food service industry and comparable industries in the area,” Wilson said.
While Bon Appetit is a for-profit company, CC subsidized its campus operations from April to August of 2020 and various portions of their service during the 2020-2021 school year.
According to Lori Seager, the associate vice president for finance at CC, the school is under contract with Bon Appétit until 2030. However, she noted that if the school finds serious issues with the service, it does have recourse to end the contract earlier.
“We have not previously heard these general allegations, but they are serious allegations and we will follow-up,” said Seager. “However, at this time we are unable to comment on the accuracy of the comments.”
While Bon Appetit representatives stressed their efforts to fill open positions, employees said new hires have often been offered higher wages than some longtime employees.
A worker who recently quit their Bon Appétit job stated that they could make better wages working at fast food restaurants, even while the food at CC is expected to meet a higher standard.
Rising levels of inflation and increasing rent prices in Colorado Springs have also made it harder for workers to meet their basic needs. Even parking at the college has become difficult, with the school typically charging its employees $200 to $300 each year for spots on campus.
“The value of a dollar that we make is a lot less at this point, even if we have the same wage,” said Speckhals. “It’s hard to get by in this town on that kind of money.”
With low pay and an increasingly hostile work environment, some workers say they have found no other option but to look for employment elsewhere.
“It becomes really difficult to keep the hourly employees on,” Speckhals said. “I don’t want to go here and be in pain because I have to do the work of however many people who left. It’s a domino effect.”