MDining student employees were not paid overtime nor given any extra compensation for their work during the polar vortex when all events and classes were canceled due to severe cold weather, University spokesman Rick Fitzgerald said.

Jennifer Plascencia, LSA senior and MDining employee, said MDining was conflicted about whether to stay open during the polar vortex. She said she ultimately decided to work during those two days to make it easier for residents to eat, despite knowing she would not get extra pay.  

“Given our dining hall size, we could have easily just closed and said ‘you guys can go eat at South Quad or wherever else you want to eat,’” she said. “But we didn’t. We opened up both days and it went well.”

From Jan. 30 to the morning of Feb. 1, the University issued an emergency reduction of operations as a result of frigid, below-zero temperatures across the Midwest. The polar vortex, which killed more than 20 people around the country, set record temperature lows for Michigan and resulted in the closure of many schools, businesses and universities.

The last time the University canceled classes and other campus events was due to a snowstorm in February 2015. In the past 40 years, the University has only closed four times.  

Fitzgerald said because student employees are not “critical employees,” they do not have to report to work when there is an emergency reduction of operations. He also said this status prevents student employees from receiving extra benefits during an emergency reduction of operations, which is what occurred during the polar vortex.

“Specific to MDining, student employees are not designated as ‘critical employees,’” Fitzgerald said. “So they are not required to work when there is a reduction in operations. If they choose to work those days, they are paid their regular hourly rate.”

An MDining employee and LSA freshman, who asked to remain anonymous due to concerns about potential repercussions at his job, said he didn’t feel like he had much of a choice as to whether he could come to work or not.

“If we have a shift during those days, we were required to come in for work as usual,” he said.

Steve Mangan, senior director of MDining, declined to comment on the issue. When contacted by The Daily, South Quad supervisor Chuck Adams declined to comment on the situation due to MDining policy.

He said living in East Quad made it easier for him to go to work during the polar vortex. However, he said he felt other employees who had to commute to the dining hall in sub-zero temperatures should have received more compensation than just a few extra hours of vacation.

“Honestly, for many of the students, many of us live in East Quad, so it wasn’t really that hard for us to go to work,” he said. “But for many of the cooks and many of the chefs who actually had to travel to get to work and leave late at night, definitely for them they probably deserved better compensation than what they got.”

The University’s Standard Practice Guide Policies, which sets the terms for how employees are compensated during developing emergency conditions, emergency reduction of operations and reduction of operations, said regular staff were given one extra hour of vacation time for each hour worked during the two days classes and events were cancelled. However, because students working for MDining are classified under the SPG policies as temporary employees, they are paid only for time worked and do not receive extra benefits.

Plascencia said this lack of extra compensation didn’t seem to deter most of her student co-workers from coming into work.

“Overall, I would say that we were well-staffed both days,” she said. “I mean, the job that we have is not a job that you can’t show up for because if nobody shows up to work, then students can’t eat. So the attitude of a lot of us was just to show up and do what we had to do.”

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