If you’ve been on campus the last few weeks, chances are you have noticed that various university-run restaurants and convenience stores are closed due to being short-staffed. Dining locations have either closed indefinitely or closed for specific days, which begs the question:
Are union markets and cafes simply short staffed or is there more to the story?
Last week, Carte at Memorial Union was closed Thursday and Friday due to “staffing shortages.” A sign, taped on the storefront, emphasized that they were closed and working to ensure that Carte is “the destination that you’ve come to expect with great food and outstanding hospitality.”
The Wisconsin Union is upfront about their lack of staff, noting that the pandemic played a role in the shortage.
“We are currently working to hire 600 additional team members to the Wisconsin Union,” Wisconsin Union Communications Director Shauna Breneman said Monday, stating that the university is working to “build our team up to a pre-pandemic staffing level and provide training to new team members.”
However, talking to a former student-employee at restaurants in both Union South and Memorial Union reveals a different reality.
“I used to work at Prairie Fire in Union South,” said the student, asking to remain anonymous. “The work was fine and I liked working there until a manager ... created a horrible work environment, which was the reason why I and literally everyone else, including the nice manager, quit.”
When asked about the staffing shortages at the Union, they emphasized that they believe it’s due to both COVID-19-related issues and poor management.
“I think it's a mix,” said the UW-Madison student. “But if they're saying it's just covid, that's a lie.”
UW-Madison also announced on Sept. 8 that Gordon Avenue Market, the university’s largest dining hall, and Four Lakes Market would switch to an all-you-can-eat, buffet style service amid staffing shortages and supply chain issues.
Although Breneman emphasized that both Madison and the broader Dane County area are experiencing a high demand for new workers, issues in the restaurant and food industry on a local and state level persist.
Locally, the leisure industry — which includes restaurant and bars — has been hit hard, with employment 17.6% below pre-COVID-19 levels, according to this Working Wisconsin report.
Access to union facilities was seriously restricted between Sept. 2020 and May 2021 in accordance with university COVID-19 guidelines, but union staff have noted an “exciting” increase in traffic in recent months, said Breneman.
“We appreciate the community’s patience as we build our team up,” said Breneman.