Supporting Our Staff
By Editorial Board
PUBLISHED APRIL 01
As Faculty House prepares to close on April 11 for extensive renovations, nearly 25 restaurant employees will be faced with a choice—to search for jobs elsewhere or to accept a limited number of positions on the lunchtime staff of the faculty dining hall, which will be moved from Faculty House to Lerner Hall. In light of the workers’ struggles to adjust to the transition, the University should be doing more to help its displaced employees find better work, whether on or off campus.
Faculty House, in addition to accommodating more than 1,500 functions yearly, is home to a dining room and garden café that operate during the academic year. Upcoming renovations needed to keep the building up-to-date will shut down the dining room—and leave its staff out of work—until the fall of 2009.
Since announcing the closure early last year, the University has offered dining-room workers only two options: a severance package or continued employment as part of Lerner’s catering staff. Displaced employees, many of whom have worked at the school for decades, complain that the University has shown them little respect for their years of service. Though the severance packages are reasonable, there are few available opportunities to continue working at Columbia—too few, it appears, to accommodate all of the restaurant employees.
Nor did the University give much help to those employees looking for jobs outside Columbia amid a faltering economy. Considering the University’s expansion into Manhattanville and its pledge to gainfully employ thousands of new workers from the neighborhood, this does not reflect well on the University’s promises.
Columbia should have taken pains to find new and appropriate positions for dining-room employees. Given many of the workers’ advanced age and long tenure at Columbia, the administration should have matched workers with positions more similar to those they now hold, rather than forcing them to adapt to new jobs late in their careers.
Any employees for whom Columbia openings do not exist should have received administrative assistance in locating appropriate jobs off campus. With Faculty House shutting down in a matter of days, the administration should proffer the helping hand it should have extended a year ago.
The administration has shown a troubling disinterest in the future well-being of two dozen loyal employees. However much Faculty House needs refurbishing, the University should be held to a higher standard in its dealings with its own workers. Students have remained largely on the sidelines, despite fliers posted last year and articles detailing the workers’ difficulties.
Quick to hound the administration about perceived injustice in the undergraduate curriculum, activist-minded students should rally to the cause of those facing unemployment on the University’s watch.
University’s Treatment of Faculty House Employees Not Surprising
To the Editor:
You are missing the reality of Columbia’s promises to the community in the editorial titled “Supporting Our Staff” (April 2), which is the fact that it was never made. Columbia promises to create several thousand jobs, but NOT ONE of them is for the community.
I am not surprised at all about the treatment of the catering staff being displaced.Do you honestly believe that Columbia will treat their employees any better than it does the community?
Columbia is a great institution endowed by God with powers and privileges beyond mere mortal men and women of the blue collar working kind.
All Hail Columbia Queen of WestSide Harlem!
Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, Former Chair of Community Board 9........... April 2, 2008
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