CAS student employee questions high costs in dining halls, lack of business transparency

Fusion Market student employee sophomore Nelly Lin (pictured above) at World Kitchen. Some student employees faced concerns regarding CAS underpaying employees while overcharging customers for food and other products (Udeshi Seneviratne/photo editor).

Campus Auxiliary Services student employees have raised concerns over the food prices, low wages for employees and unclear decision making from the organization. 

The company received complaints in the past regarding high food costs and expensive meal plan options, according to an article in The Lamron on Oct. 9, 2015. 

Students, including Fusion Market part-time employee sophomore Connor Widmaier, question the lack of transparency on behalf of the company regarding its comparatively inflated food prices and smaller wages for employees, particularly full-time workers. 

“The issue is that we’re underpaid as employees and we’re overcharged as consumers. Given their non-profit status, it’s striking to me how much it seems that they overcharge us for what they’re giving us while underpaying the workers, and I’m really confused where that money’s going,” Widmaier said. “When I spoke to them ... they really tried to sell it like they have the students’ best interest, but I just find it so hard to believe that they have the students’ best interest considering their pricing strategies.” Professor of biology and member of the CAS Board of Directors Gregg Hartvigsen believes CAS is as transparent as they can be considering their other concerns. 

“They have provided all of the price comparisons against other SUNYs, I’ve seen all of this data where we compare the cost of different meal plans against other colleges in New York State,” Hartvigsen said. “Geneseo’s kind of around the 40th percentile in cost so it’s relatively low cost compared to other SUNYs ... the data that I’ve seen seemed to support the idea that as a price point, CAS does well.” 

Meal plans at other SUNYs including Cortland, Binghamton and Buffalo all range around the same price range as Geneseo’s offered meal plans, according to price charts from their respective websites. 

All 64 SUNY schools utilize a local partnership similar to the one between CAS and the college, according to a previous article in The Lamron on Oct. 9, 2015. 

One of the issues Widmaier raised concerns about was the monopolization of on-campus dining and other services by CAS. 

“They’re taking advantage of their dominance in the job market and monopoly over us as consumers,” Widmaier said. “Each dining hall should be a separate entity competing against each other and that would give them more of an incentive to treat us better as consumers and employees.”

Windmaier sent out a survey on Oct. 3 to student employee groups for dining halls across campus and received 105 anonymous responses, 81.7 percent of which were from current/former CAS Student employees. The respondents represent as much as 10 percent of CAS employees. 

Only 29.1 percent of respondents reported having a positive work experience with CAS, according to the survey. Comparatively, 16.5 percent reported a negative experience, while 37.9 percent remained neutral. 

Students have expressed concerns in the past regarding where the funds from meal plans and other operations go, which were addressed as part of forums held with Student Association, according to an article from The Lamron on Mar. 3, 2016. 

When he asked where the funds go, Widmaier explained he was told they go toward operating costs as well as scholarship funds for students. 

CAS was not available for comment at the time of publication for this article, but previous comments made by former Executive Director Mark Scott for a Lamron article on Oct. 9, 2015 explain that salaries take a considerable toll on internal costs. 

“We certainly want to keep pace with the market in terms of being able to attract employees. I can tell you right now, we’re kind of losing that race,” Scott said in 2015. “We’re almost at a crisis level in terms of being able to attract employees and pay employees what the rest of the market is doing.” 

Widmaier is concerned that the high costs of dining services are not being used to sufficiently compensate full-time employees who need to make a livable wage. 

“After developing such great relationships with coworkers … especially the full-time employees, it came to my attention how underpaid and underappreciated we are,” Widmaier said. “I really just want more transparency coming from CAS as a whole, I feel we have the right to know what upper management makes.” 

Hartvigsen encourages students to get more involved through the Student Association for greater student representation on the CAS Board in order to advocate for their needs. 

“More than anything, as a result of this I want to see [the full-time employees’] quality of living increase and I want to see CAS start to respect [them] as well as the student employees,” Widmaier said.

Associate news editor Kara Burke contributed reporting to this article