UO eliminates free shift meals for dining hall workers, students protest

University of Oregon dining employs hundreds of student and non-student workers. For years, a free meal on each shift was part of an employee’s compensation. That has changed this term.

Student employees are now charged $1 for meals while at work. A dollar for a meal might not break most students’ banks, but the price is going up — next term it will triple to $3.

Some students are not pleased with the change. Rio Lehman, co-director of the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), says that worker compensation is not where UO should be cutting costs.

“It’s a unilateral cut in worker compensation,” Lehman said. “They’re essentially nickel and diming some of the lowest paid workers on campus, which is absurd and unacceptable to us.”

Lehman has started a petition on behalf of SLAP that demands free shift meals be given back as part of worker compensation. Between print and online, the petition is nearing 600 signatures. The petition is available here.

Lehman is concerned that the price will continue to rise in the future.

“There’s absolutely nothing in place to stop dining from raising it as high as they want to, without any worker input on the issue. Regardless, we think it should be free.”

According to Tom Driscoll, director of food services, free shift meals were previously subsidized by the room and board fees paid by students living in the dorms. He says that UO housing thought it would be fairer for student workers to cover the cost themselves, rather than have it subsidized through those fees.

Driscoll says that they are now able to keep the cost of the dorms lower than it otherwise would be in part because of the shift meals cut. But dorm prices didn’t decrease this year – the total cost is up 1.4 percent.

“I think we have struck a balance here that still offers a great discounted meal benefit to our staff and that does not burden this cost onto resident UO students,” Driscoll said.

Driscoll also noted that student forums were held last spring to discuss the change, and that students are now able to select whatever food they want at the discount rate. When shift meals were free, only select items were available.

SLAP takes issue with the forums held last spring and how the change was handled. According to Rio Lehmen, the change was met with a lot of protest when first proposed. Lehman says that the university initially reversed its decision, keeping the free meals. But the discussion re-opened over the summer, and free meals were eliminated for student workers only. Non-student workers, who are protected by a union, kept the benefit.

“The fact that they decided to do this over the summer when no students were present for advocacy was truly despicable, but we’re back in session to fight this,” said ASUO senator Vickie Gimm.

For now, student workers will have to cope with the increased food expense.

“It’s very frustrating,” said Edward Layman, a worker at Dux Bistro. “It would be incredibly helpful for me, a student on a budget, to have access to a free meal while I’m at work.”

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Jack Pitcher

Jack Pitcher

Jack Pitcher is the Editor in Chief of the Emerald. He's a business major and Trail Blazers fan.

Reach Jack at [email protected]