The Bulldog Café is visited daily by a majority of those on campus. During finals week, students readily confess to making multiple visits a day.
“How many times in one week? No less than ten, just for coffee alone” said senior, Kiki Molitor.
The vibe is energetic, and although staffed and run by Bon Appetit, your favorite barista might as well be walking by your side at commencement.
So close, and so personal, are the ties between the staff of the Bulldog Café and the students that many times regular customers have their coffees or teas ready for them by the time they reach the register.
Many regular customers were left confused, last week, when they arrived mid-Friday afternoon, only to find the Bulldog Café closed, and Bon Appetit middle management lurking around outside, suppressing a look of stress. According to one of the baristas, the café had to was closed because everyone had either called out that day or had quit.
In fact, over the last few months, five baristas have left their jobs at the Bulldog Café explained a barista. Also, Friday of this week will be the long-time supervisor Elsi Sarafin’s last day, bringing the total of employees leaving to six. So why have the baristas at the Bulldog Café been seeking employment elsewhere?
According to a former café employee, who wishes to remain anonymous, it was a way of protesting blatant wage theft. The former barista recounted what happened via email:
“Payday was 2/21/19, Thursday, for the work period of 1/31/19 – 2/14/19. All of the Bulldog Cafe employees were only paid for 1-3 days of work, including the manager” the person wrote. This former employee, shocked and upset, found it nearly impossible to get in contact with a Bon Appetit manager.
“I tried to find anyone from management before my shift started, but no one was around,” the former employee wrote. “Again, no calls or emails from management explaining how to receive my missing money. I was not the only one who didn’t get their paycheck fixed.”
It was only after this former employee submitted a letter of resignation did someone from Bon Appetit reach out. The former employee received an email from a manager that said: “The time clock was offline, and we didn’t know until the next pay period. It was purely an accident.”
Accident or not, the damage was done. Rent payments were missed, and the Bulldog Café employees saw just how much Bon Appetit’s middle management cares about the café that shares its name with the University of Redland’s mascot.
It is important to note that according to this former employee, this was not the first time that paychecks were incorrect, this incident is the most egregious. However, the baristas’ wages, even when honored, have emerged as a reoccurring issue for the employees at the Bulldog Café.
A current employee, who again stressed the wish to be kept anonymous, revealed that although there are raises, they are few and far between. Also, when raises are given they conveniently happen in coordination with the increase in California’s minimum wage. Legally required increases to the barista’s hourly rate suddenly become “performance-based” raises.
The employee who shared this issue said that when the situation was brought up with Bon Appetit management, the bosses agreed that raises are in addition to hikes in the minimum wage and that there will be compensation in the form of back pay. The current employee has yet to receive any.
Another issue is that if an employee earns a raise before a hike in California minimum wage, it is not clear that the raises become part of the baristas new hourly pay. To make things easier to understand here is a hypothetical: If an employee has earned a raise of 20 cents, to $13.20 an hour, and the next week the minimum wage is raised to $14.00 an hour, the barista has lost their 20-cent raise. If the raise were rolled over, the hourly rate would be $14.20 an hour.
The dollar amounts in the example are made up, but the situation is real, and it is painful. These are baristas who show up every day and prepare hundreds of orders remarkable speed and efficiency. These are members of the Redlands Bulldog community that make the café in the library a reliable and hospitable dining option.
“We do it for you guys,” said a café employee, asking, once again, to be kept anonymous. “We try and keep the energy high, and the spirits high too. We enjoy working here, in this coffee shop.”
Such pride and enjoyment translate into empirical results. The Bulldog Café was given an A rating by the Department of Public Health, while other dining options on campus received a much lower score.
As Bon Appetit’s future on the University of Redlands campus becomes less and less certain, so does the future of the Bulldog Café. Current baristas have not heard what will happen to their jobs, or the café if Bon Appetit is not re-awarded the catering contract.
As the University of Redlands student body inches towards a decision on who will be the new dining service provider, how these companies treat their employees, and how accountable the managers of these large catering corporations are, is something that needs considering.
What good is a sustainable diet if those preparing it are being mistreated, lied to, and seen as generally disposable? The University of Redlands does not treat its employees and students in such a manner, so how can we justify outside contractors behaving this way? Especially since it is on our behalf, as students here, and it is on our campus
The University of Redlands has not yet responded to queries regarding the future of the Bulldog Café, post-Bon Appetit. The on-campus management for Bon Appetit has commented that the fate of the café rests in the hands of whoever wins the contract to provide dining services to the university.
Each employee of the Bulldog Café, former and current, requested to be anonymous, all giving the same reason: the fear of retaliation.
If you are an employee here at the University of Redlands, or you work on the campus for an outside contractor and are subject to unprofessional behavior, or you are witness to unethical acts, please contact the reporters at the Redlands Bulldog. The first step in holding people, or parties, accountable is bringing the complaint into the public forum.
Editors Note: After the publishing of this story, the following is the response from Pam Franco, Bon Appetit’s general manager in response to this story:
Unfortunately, we did indeed experience a problem with our designated time clock in the Bulldog Café going offline unexpectedly. (It has since been replaced with no subsequent issues.) Seven total out of 173 Bon Appétit employees on campus did not have their hours properly recorded. None of those affected were U of R students.
When affected employees received incorrect paychecks and reported the discrepancy, Bon Appétit management was alerted to the problem. We issued expedited paychecks with the missing hours to those seven employees within a few days of the original paycheck, and made a voluntary additional payment of $197 in the next regular paycheck to each affected employee (aiming at $150 per person after taxes), in recognition of the error and inconvenience. In addition, we offered to reimburse the affected employees for any late fees or penalties they were charged; no employees asked for reimbursement.
During Bulldog Café operations on Friday, March 22, two team members called in sick, so we had to close the café for approximately 30 minutes while we found others to fill in. We are currently working on wage compression adjustments for the team in light of recent adjustments in the minimum wage.
We are committed to ensuring fair and accurate wages for all of our employees. The time clock failure was an isolated incident, and we regret the difficulties this error caused.
Photos contributed by Redlands Bulldog photographer Briana Weekes.