Bon Appetit Employees Face Minimal Health Coverage

River Sterne

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Frontpage.Cooper-Ellis.Issue#11.BON AP REPAIR

Illustration by Sophie Cooper-Ellis

In the Whitman dining halls, Bon Appétit employees work long hours in difficult and fast-paced jobs. When injuries occur, they cannot use the Whitman Health Center, and their vacation days and break times are small in number. Though Bon Appétit employees on campus generally have good relationships with higher-up campus officials, nationally the catering company is re-classifying many employees’ employment statuses to save money, affecting health insurance for many of them.

One such individual is Whitman Bon Appétit employee SueAnn Courson.

“I was full-time the first three years I worked here, and then they moved me to Jewett and they didn’t have a full-time position, so for the past two years I’ve just been working part-time,” said Courson.

This has affected Courson’s ability to get adequate insurance coverage and has made the job frustrating for her at times. Luckily, Courson has received support from Erica Peters-Grende, the office administrator responsible for accounting. 

“They were charging me for full-time insurance because Erica knows that I have a bad foot. I have screws pin and wire in my foot. I need that insurance,” said Courson. “But corporate was going through their books and realized ‘Oh, she’s not full-time,’ so now I have to go down to part-time insurance.”

Courson’s story is similar to that of many other Bon Appétit employees who are struggling with the corporate office’s decisions. On campus, however, employee-boss relationships within Bon Appétit are fruitful and amiable for the most part. Employees like Courson see this most when they sustain an injury or fall ill. Jewett Dining Hall Manager Laura Palachuk agrees that the company understands basic health needs of employees when on the job, which is fast-paced and can lead to minor injuries.

“They’re not in the practice of slave-driving,” said Palachuk. “If you need to go, you need to go.”

Other employees have similar feelings towards having to take time off. Palachuk’s sister, Megan Palachuk, needed to take a substantial amount of time off last year and had no trouble at all with higher-up officials.

“I was able to talk to [Bon Appétit campus General Manager] Roger Eden and all the other bosses,” said M. Palachuk. “They asked me, ‘What do you need? What do you want us to do?’ They were all very helpful and patient.”

While the officials are sympathetic, Bon App employees still face challenges in getting medical help for work and non-work related injuries. Although they do work on campus, Bon App employees are unable to use the campus health center because they are technically not employed by the college.

“The health center may give us a band-aid,” said L. Palachuk. “But they’re really not supposed to treat us at all.”

This leads to many employees dealing with minor injuries on their own and going to the hospital for more severe cases.

“A lot of little kitchen injuries aren’t worth medical attention,” said L. Palachuk. “You get a little burn on your arm –– you’re not going to go to the doctor. You’re going to put some cream on it and move on with your day.”

M. Palachuk thinks this may have to do with insurance and the fact that the health center isn’t an actual clinic or hospital.

“I wonder if it’s an insurance thing for the Health Center,” said L. Palachuk. “Because if they don’t employ any MDs, we can’t go to the Health Center to see a doctor.”

Though Bon Appétit employees are respected by their bosses, they work a demanding job and sometimes have trouble getting time off. All employees have three days of sick time, and full-time employees accrue vacation time depending on how long they’ve been employed by Bon Appétit. The amount of vacation time available varies anywhere from an hour a week to upwards of three.

“If you’ve worked … here for more than 10 years, you get one [hours] a week,” said L. Palachuk. “If this is your first year, you get one hour a week.” 

The process for getting additional time off is not exceedingly difficult, but it can be a burden for employees to take time off without pay, especially if they’re injured or ill. Fortunately, it is possible for employees to take more days off and come back when they feel they are ready.

“You can cash in vacation at pretty much any point, there’s little strings attached, but you can pretty much have your vacation hours whenever you want them,” said M. Palachuk.

Ultimately, Bon Appétit at Whitman makes it possible to take time off and is respectful of employees’ health needs. Corporate policy has led to a downgrading of many employees’ employment statuses, but the relationship between higher-up officials and kitchen staff remains strong.

“It’s a corporation, but the individuals that are actually running the stores on this campus are really very human, and they try really hard to do what they can to take care of us,” said L. Palachuk.

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