By: Tatum Hunter ~Editor-in-Chief~
Ray Johnson took to social media on Jan. 10 to protest his suspension from his job as a cafeteria worker at Hoff Dining Commons.
“I do not feel the need to bottle myself up for an institution whose founding principles are: Education, diversity and service,” Johnson wrote in a Facebook post providing the Xavier Auxiliary Services email and asking students and coworkers to show their support. The post did not go unnoticed by students, with 120 likes and 39 comments expressing support for Johnson.
However, personnel decisions in Hoff are not made at the university’s discretion. Chartwells, the third-party company that operates Hoff, is still in the process of terminating Johnson’s employment. Johnson worked at Hoff for three years before he was suspended for what managers deemed disruptive and inappropriate behavior in the workplace. But tension between Johnson and his managers had been building for some time, he said.
The causes of the tension, according to Johnson, were his complaints about payroll inaccuracies, his frustration with the lack of upward mobility for employees and his interactions with students. Johnson said Hoff managers verbally told employees to refrain from attending campus events like speaker series and theatre shows. He also said that the employees’ pay stubs were consistently inaccurate and that he was not paid for the overtime he worked.
“I’m just the one that noticed,” Johnson said regarding the alleged inaccuracies, “People started bringing me their pay stubs for me to check.”
A confrontation in the workplace between Johnson and Hoff manager Ed DeVoid was the cause of the suspension, according to Johnson. He said the confrontation stemmed from his complaints about the payroll. Johnson received multiple written warnings about his workplace behavior before the confrontation occurred. DeVoid declined to comment on the incident since the Midwest Food Service Workers Union is still investigating Johnson’s termination as part of an appeal process.
“It’s really hard not to say anything, but I can’t just pull his file and say ‘Here’s a thing, here’s a thing, here’s a thing.’ This was all supposed to be confidential. And by taking to social media, he ruined that,” DeVoid said.
At first, DeVoid said that Hoff employees should not be on campus if they’re not at work and should steer clear of social engagements with students, adding that those situations “always end badly.” He then clarified that employees are allowed to attend cultural and educational events on campus. DeVoid said that employees are encouraged to interact with students, but are discouraged from any behavior that might make students feel “uncomfortable.”
“Something like saying hi, asking how classes are going, that’s fine. But when it gets into things like hugs and fist bumps, we don’t really want that,” DeVoid said. “Sometime that humor doesn’t cross the line well. Students will email me because they’ve been destroyed by some comment an employee made. (Employees) aren’t here to find a circle of friends. It’s a job.”
No other employees have lodged complaints about payroll, and no employees have been shorted, DeVoid said.
“Mistakes happen. But our default is to go with what the employee says,” he said.
DeVoid also said that Chartwells does offer its entry- level employees opportunities for advancement.
“There is equal opportunity for everyone. If you want it, it can happen. If you want my job, come and get it,” he said.
Chartwells contracts with Xavier Auxiliary Services to operate Hoff, and cafeteria workers are Chartwells employees. The university has not independently operated the cafeteria for more than 30 years. Director of Auxiliary Services Jude Kiah said that Xavier has a thorough vetting process to make sure the third-party companies it contracts with share the university’s values. He added that any claims that Hoff employees are not welcome to attend campus events are “categorically false.”
“It’s the other way completely. I want them to come to events and feel part of the community,” he said.
Kiah said the directives Hoff employees receive about their interactions with students are not problematic.
“None of our people are instructed on how to deal with students. They’re instructed on how to deal with customers,” he said, noting that Hoff has sold 1300 meal plans to people living off campus.
Lack of upward mobility within Hoff is caused by lack of interest in managerial positions, Kiah said. In the last 10 years, only one entry-level employee applied for a management position, and that applicant withdrew. Kiah attributed this to the high likelihood that managers will be transferred to different locations, adding that many employees don’t have the educational qualifications to pursue managerial roles.
“If I sensed even an iota of ‘No you’re done and we won’t let you be that,’ I wouldn’t let that happen,” he said. “We have to take affirmative steps to make sure that we do our very best to develop the people and make sure they have the potential and skills to rise in their careers. We would never sponsor or endorse our contractors doing business contrary to those principles.”
Xavier President Fr. Michael Graham declined to comment on Xavier’s relationship with Chartwells or the dynamics among workers, managers and students in Hoff.
Hoff employee Michael W. has worked at the cafeteria for 18 years. He said that he gets along well with coworkers and students and that, while problems with payroll occur, they are easily fixed. He said he would feel comfortable attending events on campus, although he doesn’t make it to many.
“I’ve been invited to a lot of (events),” he said. “But I don’t know when I’m going to be on campus.”
Yolanda O., another Hoff employee, sang a different tune.
“They’re always saying you can’t do anything with the students,” she said. “I don’t feel welcome to do anything at Xavier except cook the food and go home. That’s how they make me feel. That you’re not affiliated, pretty much.”
Yolanda said that if an employee goes to management with a complaint about payroll inaccuracies, management does not fix the problem in a timely manner. She added that if Hoff employees work catering gigs in Cintas, they sometimes do not receive the catering wage they are promised.
“There is no room for growth,” she said. “The managers will refer to us workers as ‘the help.’”
Directives about interacting with students can be confusing and contradictory, Yolanda said.
“We’re supposed to talk with them or what not. We’re not supposed to touch them. But some students will walk up and hug you. What are you supposed to do, push them away? It’s double jeopardy. You want me to talk to them and love them, but they can’t embrace me? I don’t get that. And there’s really nobody that you can tell something to and get something done.”
Yolanda said that Ray Johnson was well liked by most of his coworkers.
“He’s the kind of guy that asks a lot of questions and calls (the managers) out on it. They wanted to get rid of him,” she said.
Although many students have demanded Johnson’s return on social media, Johnson said that largely, Xavier students remain uninterested in the lives of the people who work on campus because these issues do not affect students directly.
“It takes distractions,” he said. “But if at the end of the day, students get to where they want to get to, that’s all that matters to them.”