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Student Alleges Penn State Dining ‘Exploited’ & ‘Failed’ Student-Employees

A former Penn State Campus Dining student-employee is speaking out against alleged mistreatment amid the coronavirus pandemic.

On Tuesday, senior Nebraska Hernández shared a handful of tweets claiming he quit his job at Pollock Commons due to “unfair treatment” he’d endured since he began working as a freshman.

In the Twitter thread, Hernández alleged Campus Dining hasn’t given its employees hazard pay, didn’t provide regular semester raises, and has had a “lack of adequate safety protocols.” Additionally, he asserted Pollock is significantly understaffed, down to about 80 employees from its typical 200.

Hernández wrote that managers think the coronavirus is “dramatized” and believe “masks are stupid.” He also claimed he made less money than workers who have worked with Dining for a shorter amount of time. He alleges that he was told that he couldn’t mop the floors because he was “too small and feminine.”

Hernández said the inappropriate comments about him mopping the floor primarily took place during his freshman year.

“There have been those types of sly remarks to other people as well,” Hernández said Thursday. “You can see that from even from replies to the Twitter thread that I had.”

Hernández continued, adding he dealt with the comments himself instead of going to someone higher up.

“If you think about the power dynamic within that situation, the likelihood that Penn State is going to take action against anyone is pretty slim,” he said. “Especially if you see now how Penn State hasn’t taken action against people like Sean Setnick or people who have been caught on camera being racist. I think people, especially at the dining commons, have very little faith in Penn State to do right by student-employees.”

Hernández said that he found out a week before the semester began that he wouldn’t be receiving his regularly promised semester raise or hazard pay for working during the coronavirus pandemic.

He mentioned that while all managers wear masks when they’re around food, their thoughts and feelings about mask-wearing and the coronavirus haven’t gone unnoticed.

“It has been made aware to people that certain managers and full-timers don’t believe that the coronavirus is as problematic as it is,” Hernández said. “There is that common discourse right now on social media or in-person with some people that believe that coronavirus is dramatized. That is a sentiment that is permeated through the dining commons.”

Hernández spoke more about being paid less than other people who have worked there a shorter amount of time. He said he went two-and-a-half years without getting a promotion, which is the primary way to get a raise.

“I think [the lack of a raise] highlights a level of favoritism that’s in the dining commons and that has been expressed to me by other people at Pollock and at other dining commons who have reached out to me after I posted my Twitter thread,” he said.

He continued, adding he doesn’t think it’s a fair system and believes he has been passed over “personally.” Additionally, Hernández said he has had “countless” full-time employees express how good of a worker he is.

Hernández hopes that his outspoken comments raise awareness and create change within Campus Dining. However, he isn’t optimistic that real change will actually happen.

“The way Penn State is treating its students during the coronavirus, outside of the coronavirus, is not OK and something should be done about it,” he said. “We pay thousands of dollars to go here and we’re working for you. My hope is something changes. I don’t think it will without a large scale student involvement, whether that be a protest or a strike.”

He went on to mention that there is a high turnover rate among student-employees because people simply “don’t like being there.”

Penn State quickly responded to Hernández’s claims but defended its Dining operations.

“We are aware of these Twitter posts and hope that our students or employees are comfortable coming forward through the many mechanisms at Penn State to report suspected issues, as the safety of our community is our primary concern,” university spokesperson Lisa Powers said.

Powers pointed out Penn State has implemented a number of safety protocols within its dining facilities, including:

  • Mandatory mask use by all staff and guests
  • Enhanced sanitation protocols with increased cleaning of restrooms and all high touch point surfaces using an EPA-approved disinfectant
  • Additional placement of hand sanitizing stations
  • Focus on takeout and grab-and-go dining options with limited, appropriately distanced, seating
  • Implementation of mobile ordering to increase contactless options
  • Minimizing self-serve stations and kiosk ordering to decrease touchpoints
  • Installation of Plexiglass shields

Powers said Penn State will continue to investigate Hernández’s claims to see if they violated the university’s policies.

“To our knowledge, no manager or staff member has operated without a mask and we would certainly want any violations to be reported immediately so that corrective measures could be taken,” Powers said. “The University is committed to providing a working environment that is safe and inclusive for all our employees and will take the appropriate steps to create  that environment.”

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About the Author

Gabe Angieri

Gabe is a senior majoring in journalism and is Onward State's managing editor. He grew up in Lindenhurst, New York, and has had the absolute misfortune of rooting for the Jets, Mets, and Knicks. If you want to see his bad sports takes, follow him on Twitter @gabeangieri and direct all hate mail to [email protected]

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