With less than five weeks left on campus, the on-campus dining staff is still not fully staffed.
Bonnie Blanchard, Interim Resident District Manager and Chartwells employee, said it has been difficult to hire this semester. Before COVID-19, the unemployment rate in Keene was very low, so they did not have a large population to hire from.
“Now the rate has gone up to about 13 percent, but a lot of people do not want to work. If you follow the restaurant business at all or even just go into Market Basket here at Keene, you’ll notice that they do not have a full staff,” said Blanchard.
Chartwells also relies on older employees and employees with children, many of which decided to not return due to COVID-19 concerns. The summer schedule works well for a lot of retired people and they can also get by without working a semester. Some employees with children decided to stay home to limit exposure.
“A lot of folks are really just hesitant to be out there. We have about seven foot high plexiglass at all of our stations to protect our associates, but there are almost 100 associates that work and we all have to come to work with each other,” said Blanchard.
With a limited staff, many employees have had to pick up extra shifts and work positions they do not usually do. Blanchard said about five to six employees went from working higher positions to lower positions, but they did maintain their pay. The catering staff is completely shuffled around so that many of them are working as cashiers or in other positions around campus.
“We have to be careful of how many people we have working together. If we have many folks working up in the kitchen, and one person gets COVID, then we could potentially lose all of our staff that is up in the kitchen. So, we have to shuffle people around,” said Blanchard.
Alongside possibly working extra shifts or working a new position, staff have also had a stressful transition into the semester. According to Blanchard, there is not only the underlying stress of the pandemic, but everything is different as soon as they walk in the door.
“Just to lose that contact with the customers is hard. We also used to have ID cards, but we have had to disable all of their cards to ensure they are getting their wellness check. We rent our uniforms now, so folks can’t take them home anymore. The changes are stressful,” said Blanchard.
Despite the stressful transition and changes, employees are not receiving financial compensation or hazard pay. Blanchard said that some college campuses may be risky, but Keene State College is not.
“The fact that we get tested every week is an amazing thing in my book. What President Treadwell has done to keep the campus safe and what the students have done great. Everyone is wearing a mask, everyone is respecting the distancing guidelines. I feel safer coming to Keene State College than I do Walmart,” said Blanchard.
Blanchard said that if any staff wanted hazard pay or financial compensation, she would assume they would approach her about it.
After multiple attempts to set up interviews with dining staff employees, Caitlin Howell stopped responding to emails. According to Chartwells policies, Howell has to set up interviews with dining staff before journalists may speak to them.
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