An Open Letter to the Managers of Swarthmore College, From a Group of Dining Center Workers

The work that we do at the Dining Center is vital to the functioning of the school; we cook, serve, and clean up after more than two thousand meals a day. 

As the ones who do this work, and as human beings, we believe that we are owed a few basic rights. We deserve enough compensation to cover the cost of living. We should be able to afford the necessities of our lives and the lives of those who depend on us, and we should not have to work extreme hours or pick up second and third jobs to do so. We should also have some influence in the college, since we know how the dining system, an important aspect of the college, works, and we are greatly affected by the college’s decisions.

We are writing this letter because Swarthmore does not guarantee us these basic rights. Our minimum wage is currently only $15 per hour, which is not a living wage in Delaware County. Some of us have decades of experience here and still only make a few dollars more. Understaffing has been a problem since COVID. Fewer workers have been left to do the same amount of work, there is pressure to pick up inconvenient shifts, and calling off is discouraged. Temp agencies are contracted to make up the difference, but these day-to-day gigs have not translated into many long-term hires (perhaps because the temp agencies pay more).

There are other problems as well. Decisions often do not reflect workers’ interests and real concerns of running the dining hall. For instance, the new late-night hours usually attract less than 30 students per night and require many of us to get home very late. We also do not have significant childcare benefits, an obvious problem for those of us with families to support.

We have two specific requests which can be implemented immediately. First, we ask for a $5 wage raise for all staff (Dining Center, Cash-Ops, EVS, Grounds, etc.), with a policy of raising wages automatically to keep pace with inflation in the future. Given that the college can afford to spend tens of millions of dollars on a new dining hall and that recent wage increases have not kept up with inflation, we think this is a modest request.

Second, we ask that the Dining Center be fully staffed, and for pressures to be removed from our schedules. We should be able to take earned vacation and sick time during the semester without getting grief from managers, having to find someone to cover ourselves, or getting a doctor’s note. To make that possible, and also to ensure the proper functioning of the Dining Center, we must be returned to full staffing. If the college is finding it difficult to find new hires, it must improve wages and benefits until it can attract more applicants. These measures, at the very least, can and should be implemented before the start of the 2023 fall semester.

We know that students are currently asking for a $5 raise themselves. We support them and hope that students and staff can join together in solidarity. Some of us will be wearing pins with the slogan “Living Wages for Staff and Students” in support of our mutual efforts, and we invite all students, staff, and faculty to wear them too.


A group of workers in the Dining Center


  1. Is there a way to make stories easier to share on social media? Like a direct posting link to FB, Twitter, Reddit…

  2. As an alum, I am baffled at how an ostensibly left-leaning institution with a $2.9B endowment could underpay workers. What is the administration doing? ‘Mind the Light’ and pay your workers!

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