Sodexo has announced meal benefits for student managers at Ithaca College dining halls will be ending after the spring semester.
Meal benefits allow student managers in each of the college’s dining halls to get lunch and dinner without using a meal plan, regardless of whether they are working at the time, while still being provided food during their shift. Student managers said the practice of offering the meal benefits to managers has been in place at the college for a long time and is an industry standard at colleges across the country. However, Jeffrey Scott, the area general manager of Sodexo overseeing the college’s dining services, said the practice violates student-employment policy.
Senior Ryan McGee, a student manager at Terrace Dining hall, said many student managers, especially those who live off campus, rely on the meal benefits for food every day.
Sodexo originally decided to end the meal benefits for student managers this semester, which would mean student managers would only be entitled to the one meal they are provided during their shift. Sophomore Laura White, another student manager at Terrace Dining Hall, said the student managers were notified via email Jan. 21 that meal benefits would no longer be offered to managers at campus dining halls.
“We rely on it a ridiculous amount,” White said. “I’m lucky because I’m still living on campus, so I have a meal plan … But I had to go in and change my meal plan to unlimited because I was having every meal at Terraces, and now I can’t do that so I had to upgrade.”
White said unlike student workers, student managers come before the dining halls open to set everything up and stay after they close to ready everything for the next day. She said it is the job of student managers to supervise student workers at the dining halls.
“Overall, there’s no benefit to being a student manager,” she said. “We come early, we leave late, we do more work, we dress up, we’re more professional, but we’re paid and treated the exact same as the student workers.”
White said student managers felt blindsided by the decision to revoke the meal benefits. McGee said there were rumors last semester about the meal benefits potentially becoming a problem, but he said the issue came to a head when Danine Dibble, Sodexo operations manager of catering and resident dining, informed the student managers’ bosses that the benefits would not continue.
White said Dibble saw one of the student managers go into the dining hall without swiping a meal-plan card Jan. 21. She said Dibble stood at the door for the rest of the day to ensure no one went in without swiping. Dibble was unavailable for comment.
In response to the decision, the student managers wrote an open letter to Ithaca College Dining Services and Sodexo, which they sent Jan. 26. The letter quotes a section of the college’s student handbook which says, “Dining Services employees are entitled to a meal during their working shift only … These policies are not intended to be all-inclusive. The company reserves the right to establish additional rules and regulations as needed.”
McGee said the final two sentences have been interpreted to mean student managers would have access to meal benefits, an interpretation Scott said he disagrees with. Scott said the clause is included in almost all employee handbooks, but is not meant to be interpreted to provide meal benefits to student managers.
The letter also cites that managers were told meal benefits violate student-employment policy, but mentions there is confusion about whose policy meal benefits violate. McGee said the college is saying the policy was written by Sodexo. However, Scott said the policy in the handbook was not written by Sodexo.
Scott said after reviewing the meal plan policy, Sodexo management decided to allow meal benefits for student managers to continue for the remainder of the spring semester.
“We felt that it was important that we honor the offer of perks that was discussed when those student managers were hired by dining managers,” Scott said.
However, he said the policy will not continue after the spring semester.
“That [the meal benefits] was done in error. It was not in accordance with our policy and with our benefit offer,” he said.
Scott said he informed a small group of student managers working at Terrace Dining Hall on the afternoon of Jan. 26 of the decision. He said he also issued a written statement of the decision to the student managers’ direct superior, so other student managers not at the meeting would be aware of it.
Responding to student managers’ assertions that meal benefits have been in place for an extended period of time, Scott said the issue was only recently brought to the attention of upper-level Sodexo management.
McGee said while he is pleased that student managers will be retaining their meal benefits for the duration of the semester, he believes taking those benefits away in the future is wrong.
“I would like to see it become policy that managers have this benefit … Because it’s been this way for so long,” he said.