For the past few months, news outlets have been extensively reporting on a nationwide “labor shortage” that is making it difficult for employers to reach the staff sizes they once had. This phenomenon has spread now to the University of Northern Colorado, where understaffing in the dining halls has led to severe cutbacks in the options provided to students on campus. But what if this is all not a crisis, but a step forward?
The so-called “labor shortage” takes on a very different meaning when you view it not as a lack of available labor, but as a mass movement. Workers are being offered better jobs with better pay, so they are naturally not going to take the worse job with worse pay. This is not selfishness; it’s collective bargaining.
For UNC dining staff, this collective bargaining has already led to better working conditions. Employees are now offered free meals with each shift, which were bafflingly not offered at the beginning of the semester. UNC has also reportedly pledged to raise wages for all dining staff, although, at time of reporting, the estimated salary for part-time dining positions listed on Handshake is still at minimum wage.
Still, UNC students who rely on dining services for their meals are still feeling the negative effects of this whole fiasco. For somebody who has never needed to work a minimum wage job to make ends meet, it could be easy to blame the sudden decrease in food accessibility on “lazy” students not wanting to work. But ask yourself: would you work a stressful job that paid you as little as possible over an easier job that paid you more?
At the end of the day, UNC’s labor shortage is caused by the same factors as the nationwide labor shortage. Those who have the power to pay workers more are simply not doing it unless they’re forced to. The fictional narrative of the “lazy” worker is just a smokescreen to hide the fact that none of this would have happened if UNC had cared about the working conditions and pay of its dining staff from the beginning.
It took the shutting down of an entire dining hall and campus outrage to make it happen, but UNC finally listened to some of the demands of its student workers. This is, hopefully, what we will begin to see more of across the country. When employers pay their workers starvation wages, they should expect to continue facing understaffing issues. If this is what it takes to get workers on campus and everywhere else what they deserve, then may the “labor shortage” never end.