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Union 211 at Smith College

Dining Director’s Response to the Daily Hampshire Gazette

To the editor:

I am writing in response to Bill Newman’s column about Smith College dining employees. I have worked as a manager for Smith College dining services for the past 36 years and as the director of dining services for the past 18 years. I benefit every day by working with a great management team and a hardworking, dedicated staff that prepares food for our students, faculty and guests. We enjoy our work and take pride in being reliable, professional and supportive of Smith’s mission.

In my tenure, I have witnessed and been involved with many of the changes in dining. On occasions when budgets were tight, we came together as a staff, with common goals and a common purpose, to figure out new ways to continue to provide quality food and service. Our dining programming is very different from 30 years ago, and one would hope this would be the case! In order to be responsive to our customers who come from all over the United States and the world, we need to stay current with trends and offer quality dining options. We have fewer kitchens today than we did in the past, but, by working with staff and implementing their ideas, we are able to offer the more varied and flexible options that students want: vegan dining, “grab and go,” kosher and Halal, and extended hours.

It would not be possible for me to perform my job without the teamwork I witness every day. I have had the pleasure to hire just about all of our current staff, and we have a very low turnover rate. When vacancies occur, current staff members encourage friends and family to apply. Applicants cite Smith’s wage rates, working conditions, work hours, and benefits — including our retirement program — as the reasons they want to work at the college. Foodservice jobs in other venues rarely offer this array of benefits. While we cannot promise work in the summer, it is often available to those who want it, as the college continues to expand summer programs and conferences.

Mr. Newman references a 1981 editorial regarding the pension that was provided for dining employees at that time. Subsequently, the college made changes to the pension and improved working situations for dining employees. I remain close friends with the woman who was president of Local 211 in 1981 and, to this day, she tells me how much she appreciated her working years at the college.

In discussions with other dining directors, it remains clear to me that Smith College provides strong wages, vacation and holiday time and benefits. We hire dedicated, creative hardworking staff and retain them far longer than industry standards. We succeed because we work as a team. I have every confidence that a new contract will be approved shortly and that Smith will remain a top choice for those in the Valley who want to work in a respectful and professional dining services department.

Kathleen M. Zieja
Director of Dining Services
Smith College