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Navigating regulations: Proactivity drives labor practices

Illustration by Sam Falconer

Many foodservice directors across noncommercial believe they’re ahead of the curve regarding labor-related issues, encompassing minimum wage, overtime policies, paid leave and more. All are vital elements to attract and retain workers in a tight job market.

This position occurs as the U.S. House of Representatives in mid-July voted to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025—more than doubling the federal wage of $7.25. Branded a jobs killer by Senate Republicans, the projection is that this proposal won’t see a path to ratification until after the 2020 election.

Jessica Shelly, director of child nutrition and wellness at Cincinnati Public Schools, says the district proactively presented a $15 hourly wage for its cafeteria workers a couple years ago—rather than the labor union presenting it during bargaining. “Many of our employees are parents of children in the district, so we want to be accountable to them,” says Shelly, whose district is offering entry-level dining assistants an hourly wage of $15.60 as of the 2019-2020 school year. “My philosophy is that, more than finding a warm body, we’re seeking to hire workers who add long-term value.” 

Others agree wholeheartedly. Rogue Valley Manor has been “doing [its] best to stay ahead of the [minimum wage] curve,” says Eric Eisenberg, director of dining services at the Medford, Ore., senior living community. “Depending on the employee role or classification, of which I have many, our lowest starting wage is $11.50 an hour and goes up to $16.50.”

However, Eisenberg notes a trouble spot.“In our noncommercial setting, there’s no tipping, and our increased base wages have historically been very attractive,” he says. “But as tipped positions see their base wage increase, this makes it more difficult for us to keep up.”

“My philosophy is that, more than finding a warm body, we’re seeking to hire workers who add long-term value.” —Jessica Shelly

From dish machine operators to counter staff to its culinary crew, Cornell University is competing with a plethora of foodservice operations, including food trucks, hotels, farmers market stands and cafes. As such, the school “is already a wage leader in our region,” says Dustin Cutler, executive director of dining, with entry-level jobs paying “well above” $15 per hour.

Staying secure

FSDs have wide-ranging opinions around secure scheduling laws, which prohibit places of employment from making schedule changes too close to a shift’s start. Some areas in the U.S. are already enacting such legislation, which presents challenges for operators who might need to change schedules without much notice.

A law in Oregon requires a minimum seven-day notice in advance of a scheduled shift, and in response, Eisenberg goes the extra mile by posting schedules three weeks in advance. “I utilize an online app/web-based scheduling system that allows staff to communicate with each other and organize shift exchanges, give up or seek shifts and make changes to their availability.”

Cornell Dining has “attained a very good balance with our staffing needs from day to day and week to week through the semester,” Cutler says. “We’ve learned how to gauge demand and, except in very unusual circumstances, we don't need to make last-minute shift changes.”

Secure scheduling policies at University of Michigan Dining are determined by its collective bargaining group, with a two-week rule in place on schedule changes. U of M actually pays its catering workers a premium if they agree to adopt more flexible schedules based on ebbs and flows of the catering business, says Steve Mangan, director of dining at the Ann Arbor, Mich., university.  

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