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EDITORIAL: Dining hall workers are undervalued at Rutgers

Dining hall employees — and all Rutgers workers — deserve a fair and competitive wage

Dining hall employees should be paid more than $12 an hour.  – Photo by The Daily Targum

Living on campus comes with many small joys, not least of which is eating at the dining halls. We are not referring to the food itself, but to the small interactions with Rutgers employees, who smile at you as you swipe in, offer you generous portions of food and are generally some of the kindest service workers you will ever meet.

These workers do more than interact with students. They cook, clean, disinfect and maintain dining halls — something that takes quite a bit of physical effort. Post-pandemic, workers' hours have increased and their responsibilities, namely coronavirus disease (COVID-19) prompted disinfection, have increased.

And yet despite the way Rutgers dining hall employees go above and beyond, they are not paid more than $12 an hour, the New Jersey minimum wage.

While we might gripe about some of the questionable cuisine decisions made in Rutgers kitchens, most people agree that dining hall workers deserve more, to such an extent that a petition making that claim has begun to circulate, garnering more than 900 signatures so far.

Started by School of Arts and Sciences sophomore Sid Srivastava, the petition claims that, “(Rutgers Dining Services) is currently facing a massive understaffing problem, a problem which has resulted in shorter hours and some locations not even opening.” The petition makes the claim that entry-level retail jobs in the state average at $15 per hour, and it is right, give or take 60 cents.

If you really think about it, most if not all Rutgers employees should be paid $15 an hour, or a livable wage, and the argument that all workers should be paid more than $12 an hour is one that we have heard time and again.

Proponents of raising the minimum wage argue that the current federal rate is too low and not commensurate with the rising cost of living, pointing to its peak purchasing power in 1968 at more than $12 an hour when adjusted for inflation.

The debate around raising minimum wage universally is complex and highly nuanced, but the conversation is a bit more approachable in the microcosm of Rutgers.

There are two scenarios that play out here. Either Rutgers can afford to pay its workers more, or it must find the funds elsewhere.

The first scenario seems the most likely. The details of Rutgers' budgeting decisions are not something we are privy to. That said, it should be common sense that laser pointers are not more important than a livable wage. Rutgers' financial decisions should be made with the best interest of all employees.

But what if, somehow, Rutgers cannot afford to pay all their employees $3 more an hour? In that case, Rutgers should reallocate funds from unnecessary programs to the paychecks of those providing essential services. We might even consider an increase in the cost of meal plans to cover raises for dining hall employees.

Of course, you would think the excessive cost of a meal plan should cover that expense as it is, but it is unclear how the money is currently spent. 

Rutgers has a poor track record with fair wages, from teaching assistants paid wages so low they declare bankruptcy to uneven wages across the three campuses. Paying dining hall employees a fair wage is just one corner of the problem, but one that we are better equipped to advocate for now that we are back on campus. Sign the petition — add your thoughts and concerns to the growing body of student commentary.

Rutgers should respond to our collective concerns and explain what they plan to do to increase the wages of workers who have consistently gone above and beyond for students.


The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 153rd editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.


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