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Ole Miss Dining Workers Deride Labor Conditions, Pay

September 7, 2022

Dining hall employees at the University of Mississippi are the latest staff members to speak up about their working conditions, The Oxford Eagle reported.

In an anonymous letter to students released on Labor Day via social media, a group of employees calling themselves “a few of the folks who cook, serve, and clean in y’alls dining halls and food courts” detailed how increasing enrollment, understaffing and stagnant wages have affected them. They also listed concerns about the quality of food served to students. The university contracts with Aramark, a publicly traded food services company, to run its dining services. The letter didn’t detail how many employees were involved with the letter, but the post said the authors wanted to remain anonymous in order to avoid retaliation by the company.

“During Welcome Week this year, one of us had to serve burgers from meat almost a year old,” the letter says. “A rich school like this could be feeding y’all all kinds of high-quality local food, but chooses to ship in the cheapest, dirtiest stuff they can find.”

University of Mississippi administrators disputed that claim and others in a statement Tuesday.

“Since we became aware of the statement posted to social media, we have worked with our partners at Aramark to investigate the validity of each claim,” the statement says. “We have found no evidence to back them up and know some to be false, including those about using outdated products, locally sourced produce and pay ranges. We will continue to investigate and work with Aramark to rectify any issues we identify in a fair and timely manner.”

Aramark officials also refuted the anonymous letter in a statement Tuesday.

“The allegations put forth on social media were inaccurate and misleading. We are committed to sustainability, hospitality, and food quality, and offer competitive compensation and benefits packages consistent with industry and market standards,” the statement read. “We also offer food service career paths within the company where many have grown from frontline roles into the company’s leadership ranks.”

The letter’s authors called on students to support them and advocate for improved working conditions.

“Together, we can make them pay us a living wage and stop gouging y’all on the prices,” the letter says. “We’d all benefit from better ingredients, fully-staffed restaurants, and healthier and happier workers.”

Ole Miss officials announced a record large freshman class this fall, and the letter says the increase in enrollment and understaffing have created a crisis.

The university requires incoming first-year students to purchase a meal plan costing around $2,000 per semester, the Eagle reported. Meanwhile, Aramark pays dining halls employees $8 to $11 an hour, but fast food restaurants in Oxford are paying more, according to the letter.

“We want to treat y’all right, but aren’t given the resources to do that,” the letter says. “When y’all are overcharged, when you have to wait in long lines, when the food doesn’t taste right, we know. But there’s nothing we can do about it.”

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Katherine Knott

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