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Wilkerson Food Service Worker Wrongfully Dismissed

A  former UND dining services employee sent us the following essay, written the night of his wrongful dismissal, in hopes of getting the management of UND's dining services to realize there are problems they need to address, in addition to addressing the issues and circumstances surrounding his wrongful dismissal. 

My Time At Wilkerson

Todd Roman

Completed 2/28/01

            Where can a story start but at the beginning?  A long, long time ago, I came to college.  Therefore, I needed a job.  It was the Fall 1999 semester.  That summer, however, I had worked at a place best left unnamed, I had a pretty good bank account, along with financial support, and I wasn’t quite sure how to handle college.  Besides, I was still due a paycheck from my previous position (ultimately stiffed on it, but that’s another story), I was scrabbling for a new social identity, and I just plain didn’t want to work.  Come my second semester, however, I had no choice.  Even with a good interest rate, a savings account never seems to last long enough.  So, after avoiding the onerous duty as long as I could, I got a job.  Wouldn’t you know it, it’s at the Wilkerson Dining Center.  I sign up for weekend mornings on the food line figuring that it’s not very hard (. . .), not too much time, and some money in the pocket.  Things flow along, until one fateful monthly meeting (February’s I believe) in which I am informed that shifts are available at the fine and wonderful institution of Late Night.  I go, meet my future satan, and sign up for Thursday’s, mostly because I didn’t want to work Sunday’s.  Anyway, anyone having issues with streams of consciousness are probably dead or asleep, but the rest might want to skip the next few paragraphs, as they have more to do with me than with Wilkerson.

            So who am I, the wise and venerable narrator?  I am me.  Coy, I know, but it has always struck me as the basic spiritual identity from which all other spiritual identities are derived.  Since I’m essentially writing this out of some obscure need for validation, I suppose I should detail some of my more negative qualities first.  I hate people.  Not in any specific sense, but in the more general terms of the perpetual fifth wheel who has found the most solace from the beasts of the earth.  I am lazy, self-absorbed, generally uncaring, impious, ethnocentric, and so on.  Overall, though, I prefer to describe myself as a sort of social chameleon, someone who can adapt their personality and even some mannerisms to the specific social circumstances I find myself in.  In plain language, I’m a geek who thinks that he has friends.  Oddly enough, however, I do have some good qualities; it’s just that they tend to stem from my bad ones.  I do believe in a sort of natural law and a sort of karma, which, while perhaps at odds with the aforesaid, nonetheless has a great deal of influence upon life.

            Still with me?  Wondering what my theological/philosophical/moral views have to do with anything?  Well, they have to do with I being me.  Self-exploration has never been my strong suit, but I have had practice.  Anyway, at the core, I like being alive.  Yes, I’m fine with a lot of the other things too, death penalty and so on, but first and foremost I like living.  Basically, to get away from this and more into the meat of this story (preferably chicken), I strongly believe in coexistence.  I think that everyone within a society and social group should find some common ground where they can all live relatively freely. 

Coexistence is a lofty goal, perhaps, but I suppose it’s the true thrust of civilization theory.  Personally, I have developed several qualities from my lifelong attempts to coexist: 

1.  Respect:  Respect for persons, property, beliefs, privacy, that sort of thing.   Basically I try not to antagonize or provoke anyone unless I’m sure that I want to expend the effort.

2.  Language:  I have issues with English.  Obviously, since I’ve never learned any foreign languages, the issues aren’t too great.  Basically, I care for words.  I like to state what I mean, as exactly as I can, although I also believe that something is always lost in the transition from thought to verbal discourse.  Typically, this leads to people thinking that I’m an irrepressible smart-ass.  I am, but they don’t have to say it.  This is actually an important quality, especially when it comes to swearing.  I swear daily and I consider swearwords (actually almost all socially unacceptable words) to have a special place in my vocabulary.  Thus, when I swear, I tend to use them to denote a greater feeling of emotion than many around me do.  I’ve done this ever since I first began using them in junior high (I have actually been made fun of because I had difficulty saying f*ck at first;  something like ‘fooze’ came out instead), and I suppose I naturally tend to assume that others do as well.

3.  Selfishness:  This isn’t actually a bad quality.  It has led me to perform relatively charitable deeds and actions simply to increase my chances of support at future times.  I like the idea of personal property, but I like the imagined esteem that can stem from sharing.  Basically, it’s a complicated quality of my being that I know little about, but it also remains one of my principal driving forces.

4.  Pride:  This one’s pretty normal.  In the context of working a job, I don’t like being prissy, but I like to say that “Hey, I do my job.”  I take pride in my knowledge, in my ideals, in my works, and defend them accordingly.

5.  Laziness:  Partly, this tends to be bad, as I procrastinate more than I should and sometimes skimp on details that shouldn’t be overlooked.  It also has another, paradoxical part:  I try to do things right the first time and make sure that things get done.  It just saves future effort.

            Well, I do have other qualities I could detail, but these are the most important to the story that I shall soon return to.  Anyway, that’s a rather vague idea of me.  Ah, but what of the antagonists of our story?

            One is, of course, satan.  His number?  7**-**** (I think that there’s a ‘9’ in there somewhere towards the end).  No I don’t mean the root of all that is evil, I mean my personal adversary.  That’s right, literal, not ecclesiastical, meaning.  See what I mean about being a smart-ass?  Irregardless (such a fun word, even if it isn’t one), the story continues thusly:

            The Late Night procession is led by a student manager, ‘Err’ for this essay, simply because I recall him employing that derogatory phoneme a great deal.  I had been working under several other student managers as well, the only one worth worrying about being ‘Ra’ because her smile lit up the sun.  No, I don’t mean that literally, I’m simply saying it in the small chance that she is reading this essay and because she is very fun to harass (remember that last bit, folks).  Later on, another student manager, ‘An’, will become peripherally relevant.  Otherwise, it is their boss, the production manager I like to call ‘Coffee-Man,’ but, since I suspect few would understand the joke, I shall term him ‘Coffee-Man.’  Other than that, I should only state that the dining center student management is surprisingly political and that they actually do NOT have control over portions served.  I was only recently canned, so I yet retain enough sympathy to say that.

            Surprised?  Why did you think that I bothered to detail some aspects of my nature, or even to write this essay?  Yes, I was laid off.  Not laid on, which could potentially be quite pleasant, but laid off.  Sorry, but I couldn’t resist that one.  Hey, guess what got me into trouble, folks.  So how does the Spring 2000 semester fit into this if I’m writing this essay a full year later?  It doesn’t.  Just a bit of contextual background, which I understand is a common literary convention in these parts.  What was that?  Get on with it?  Certainly.

            For all of the Spring 2000 semester, I had no problems.  I was essentially a mindless grunt, at best, and ‘Err’ did not much raise my hackles (I have always endured minor bouts of depression, and Late Night often seemed to aggravate them, although this lessened in later semesters).  Actually, I probably recall more about him during that time now then I consciously noticed then.  Regardless (not quite as fun as its counterpart, but an actual word), I remained in college over that summer.  I actually recommend the summer campus, as it’s essentially dead after the noon hour (an advantage for me), but the squirrels are fun to watch.  I worked at the dining center virtually every day for the evening meals (Wednesday’s usually being the exception) and often for most of the weekend.  During this time, I was mostly under the jurisdiction of ‘Ra.’  Like I said, fun to harass.  While there, I progress from the serving line into the dishroom, into the janitorial role, and, most importantly, into the supervisory role.

            This last one is important.  Aside from ‘Ra’ and one other student manager who left halfway through (no Late Night), I was the only experienced student employee for the first half or so of the session.  I had to learn to do everything connected to my job, including taking the temperature of food if no one else was available.  The session was not always slow.  True, SIL and the students accounted only to a little over a hundred on good days, but there were camps who came, especially one in June that swelled the meal count to over one thousand (by comparison, a normal, nightly Wilkerson count is around 750, while Late Night tends to be around 430, give or take a score).  ‘Ra’ was forced to do much of the administrative work (I assume that’s what she was doing when she would disappear for an hour.  Believe it or not, the activities of student managers at Wilkerson often have to be assumed by their employees.).  As people would occasionally come for employment (one still works there as I write this), ‘Ra’ could not spend much time supervising or training them.

            Remember, this is a campus dining center.  For most of the jobs, half of a brain is required, three-quarters if you want to be in the dishroom.  Still, some things have to be done a certain way or a close equivalent, and a newbie is probably going to mess up (especially in the summer where no one else can really help guide).  I maintain that I was a newbie until August.  Anyway, full time employees were around, and they can perform in a supervisory capacity, but, speaking for the evening shifts, the full timers also leave before the students.  So, there are no student supervisors, ‘Ra’ is usually too busy, the full timers are not actually supervisors and so do not strenuously pursue their roles as such, and there is an occasional need for a princeps (less and less as more people took up shifts into the late summer).  Guess who?  Nope, ‘Coffee-Man’ didn’t do too much.  Yes, he was there, no, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t his job, and no, he’s not very important yet (to the story anyway).  Oh, you were guessing me?  Sorry, my mistake.  Yes, I served in that capacity (probably only significantly about once every three or four shifts). 

            In such a capacity, I basically figured out how to do things.  I don’t mean the put-rag-on-table-wipe-around-hope-it-comes-clean kind of how, but the do-this-faster-as-effectively-and-more-easily kind of how.  Let me say this about the status quo now:  it should always be challenged, but sometimes things set that way for a reason.  Change can lead to an improvement, but if it doesn’t seem to be working, go back to the old way.  As the summer died down and the old veterans (as well as the new recruits) returned for a training session spanning three (+/-) days (why did they get paid to play volleyball while the summer people had to actually work?), I actually knew what I was doing.  I knew the basic processes (specific details always depended upon the cook or manager hanging about) of every job, I knew how to set up or take down the dishroom machinery, I had a good handle on how to train people (something that actual supervisors and managers traditionally avoid), and I’m fairly certain that I knew how to work with people.  One difference about the summer is that there are fewer student employees overall and fewer upper echelon student employees in particular, thus it was truly a principate.  If anyone heard what I was saying, they could ignore me (strangely enough, this rarely happened, so I must have been making some sense), and, when it was busy, everyone had to work together almost perfectly.  In the end, however, everyone had to know what they were doing, and I was usually the only one available for on-the-spot reference (this also lessened towards the end).  All the same, remember that during this time, I am never ‘in-charge.’  No one is, except for ‘Ra,’ and whenever she is around, she is in the muck with the rest of us.

            Although I understand that you are all waiting for me to get to the central point, I should explain something about the mechanics of working, in the dishroom in particular.  There are rushes, i.e. times when consumers enter in mobs.  During the normal year, with a few exceptions (Sunday’s after noon), the stream is light and steady with one or two ten or so minute periods of extreme volume.  During the summer, the work tended to be light and sporadic, but, with the camps, hundreds of people could come all at once, and work rhythms had to be shifted accordingly.  In the dishroom, dishware can be loaded and unloaded unto the machine at only a set rate, and the two sides had to synchronize, which is not always easy.  Therefore, as I grew to know more and more about the workings of the dining room (and to care more and more), my attitude shifted from “Hey, it’s just a job.” to “F*ck.  Better get this done now.”  As a result of all of this, by the time that the Fall 2000 semester was beginning and additional student workers were returning with their complacent supervisors, I was irrevocably set in my habit of acting like a supervisor if I felt that it was required.  Yes, I started making the dangerous presumption that I actually knew what I was doing.

            No, that’s not quite right.  I found out during the Fall 2000 semester why that’s not quite right.  The supervisors were lazier than many of the “trouble” workers, they were cliquish, they held irrelevant personal conversations when they should have been working.  I did too.  All the time.  Everyone did, and still, I would imagine, does.  The problem, however, is twofold:  a) sometimes the work has to come first; and b) I had been the princeps, the first among many, for quite some time, and have what are apparently peculiar ideas.  The foremost is that anyone in a supervisory role (especially if they’re official) has a greater responsibility and probably should not be worse than the ones they are supposed to supervise.  Of course, as the semester dragged on, the old ways returned, and the supervisors (as far as I could ever tell) started to measure up to the mental image in my head.  Granted, I remained a grunt (I could have applied, but I was very conscious of the underlying politics by then) and so my support was never of any consequence.  Still, my opinions are important to me, and I was an employee (occasionally, I would imagine, even a “trouble” worker). 

            So, I never really had too many conflicts with anyone in charge.  I often had alternatives to how they managed things, but their way worked, so I kept my trap shut.  I was working weekends and Late Night again.  I once again worked under ‘Err,’ who for some reason that I cannot to this time explain, attempted to win me over (to or from what, I don’t know).  At any rate, things were proceeding relatively well until November.  I was seriously considering quitting at the end of the semester.  No major reason at that time, but I didn’t want to be working there my entire life.  If I had quit then, it would have been a clean break.  Instead, I waited until the ranks of the supervisors are under review for elevation to student manager.  Much to my consternation and ire at the time, ‘An’ was selected.

            Why did I not like her?  It has to do with a single event when she was still supervisor.  Essentially, it is the responsibility of line workers to put away clean cooking utensils (and clean anything else) at the end of any shift.  I was no longer strictly a line worker, but also a dishroom worker (officially the latter).  It had been ordained that a select subset of the utensils would not be put away, and this edict was plastered on the wall of the dishroom (also on a fan, but there was a huge sign right in plain view).  I knew this, ‘An’ apparently did not.  I confronted her, she disagreed (and was supported by a dishroom supervisor!), I looked at the signs (both) again, confronted her again citing the signs, ‘An’ pulls the “Don’t argue with me because I’m a supervisor” routine that is prevalent at the dining center (remember, I was accustomed to a principate), I try to get the support of ‘Ra,’ only to find her telling ‘An’ (and the dishroom supervisor) that I am right (in effect, not verbatim, unfortunately), and ‘An’ writes it off completely.  She never comes close to an apology, the dishroom supervisor never comes close to an apology, and neither have ever giving me any credit for knowing a relatively new change of procedure and bringing it to their attention.  So much for the value of independent thought and employee input.

            As you might think, the incident did not leave me favorably disposed to ‘An.’  Also, it obviously was not quite that cut and dry.  I was, of course, just another worker in reality, but in my mental world I was still operating as if it were summer.  I know that it was a minor thing, I know that any authority I had ever possessed at the dining center was an illusion, but I also know that I came to college to learn, to improve myself, and I did not expect such . . .  I don’t know, I guess I’ve never fully figured out the incident, but I do feel that I was not taken as seriously as I was used to being taken, or even taking other people now that I think about it.  Even now, I have a sore spot for ‘An,’ I suppose because I blame her that the more egalitarian days were gone.  At this point, I suppose you’re calling me a ‘hypocrite’ or ‘jealous’ due to the fact that I was no longer in the premier position, or believing that I was the problem because I wanted things my way.  Perhaps.  I believe that I (or any other worker) have every right (even an obligation?) to call a supervisor or manager on any count in which they appreciably deviate from what I (or any other worker) could reasonably understand their job to be.  If a supervisor (or manager) cannot take a few moments to address the concerns of an employee at a relevant time, what does that say about his or her ability?  I think that it says a lot.

            In any case, ‘An’ got the job of student manager.  This all but convinced me to quit.  I was still watching ‘An’ when I should have been watching my satan.  Should I describe ‘Err’?  I think not.  I shall instead relate two incidents that semester that poisoned me against him (although I was still more wary of ‘An’).  No, I change my mind.  This is my forum and I feel that I must make the statement now:  ‘Err’ is a sexist, possibly even a pervert.  I have seen him making obscene gestures at customers before the door is opened for Late Night.  I have heard him make sexually disparaging comments at various times.  I have also seen him organize (as a joke during clean-up) hanging gourds into a phallic arrangement.  This aspect of ‘Err’ is not precisely relevant, but I feel that it deserves at least a mention, simply for being drastically inappropriate.  Now, on to the incidents.

            First, during one Late Night shift, I went with him to the back office to pick up my paycheck (Late Night has a different rhythm, and past the first hour does not require much more than incidental vigilance, so we were not missed over such a short span of time).  Remember my good qualities?  Respect for privacy is one of them.  One of the other managers (I don’t recall the specific title, there are too many) had a meal sitting up in the corner of the office.  Normal Late Night meal, nothing special about it, the owner just wasn’t there at the time.  ‘Err’ looks at it, picks it up, figures out what it is, wonders what is inside as he opens it, and puts it back.  The guy is essentially tampering with someone else’s food.  No harm done in this case, but I still find it grating.  I think that what ‘Err’ just did was rather . . . shocking?  I’m not sure how to express my precise feeling, but I think my skin began to crawl, which it certainly did when I received his reaction to my queries into his motivation.  Ridicule.  Everyone has heard that sarcastic tone when someone takes the track of ‘Well, let’s see, oh, wait, I can’t look at this, because this is private.’  He was talking about looking at a list of who had and who had not picked up their paycheck by then.  I’m hoping that most of you are starting to think that ‘Err’ could be grossly inappropriate, but, if not, just accept the fact that I felt very offended.  I have pride, however, and I thought that I could take it in stride.

            Why did I never make a formal complaint?  Politics, pure and simple.  I am irrevocably convinced that any time any of the higher-ups (‘Coffee-Man’ and beyond) really care about any of the workers is when they are absolutely forced to.  ‘Coffee-Man’ was buddy-buds with ‘Err’ for as along as I had known either and at some point moved into the same apartment.  The bulk of the supervisors were picked from the social contacts of the existing managers, the managers were picked by the existing managers from their contacts, and so on.  Basically, any time anyone not in the clique was selected for promotion was a happy accident.  Again, amidst cries of ‘hypocrite’ and ‘yeah, right,’ I restate that I knew that this was going on and so never even tried for a promotion.  While I am not alone in my observations, I have always been alone in the set of circumstances that led to my dismissal.  Never forget that you are reading an essay written by a disgruntled ex-employee with a chip on his shoulder.  Also, never forget that for me this is truth.

            The second incident was far worse, much more complex, and occurred at the end of the last Late Night shift of that semester.  At the end of every shift, the happy Late Nighters are gathered around the hall of ‘Err’ to allow him to impart wisdom.  I should remind you of two particular qualities that I possess:  numbers 2 and 4 (mostly 2).  If you don’t know what they are, they are listed closer to the beginning of this essay.  The affair took the form of a dialogue, which I can reconstruct.  Keep in mind that, while I am quite certain that the following is essentially what was said, the precise phrasing may have been different.  That’s one of the many times that I wish I had had a tape recorder with me.  Anyway, the dialogue was much like this:

            ‘Err’ (to another employee):  “Let’s try to keep the storeroom cleaner.  I don’t want our sh*t all over the floor.”

            Todd (to ‘Err’):  “I hope so, but I didn’t think that we actually had any sh*t in . . .”

            ‘Err’ (to Todd):  “Okay, Todd, you can just go home.  I’m in no mood to deal with your sh*t tonight.”

            Everyone Else (to Todd):  Looks of shock, interest, or whatever emotion they had handy at the moment.

            Todd (to ‘Err’):  “Okay.”

            Not very exciting, is it?  Well, I would also like to state that I was never supposed to be working that night.  Towards the end of the semester, I had taken to coming to Late Night and remaining for some time after having finished eating just to talk with the other employees.  I was not on duty, it was always later in the night so it was not a strenuous rhythm, and I’d like to think I relieved boredom more than I disrupted actual work.  They were short that night.  I toyed with the idea of helping out, and I wound up doing so.  The addition of one person during Late Night clean-up can mean a difference of up to ten minutes if they’re short enough (I probably made three minutes’ difference, but that’s still pretty significant for people so close to midnight).  I would also like to mention that both ‘Err’ and ‘Coffee-Man’ had made comments on occasion about too much swearing.  As might be expected, the crux of their arguments tended to be an ideal of professional dignity.  Draw your own conclusions.

            Here’s a shocker, however:  I did not appreciate being cursed at in such a fashion.  Up until this point, I had continually deflected the question of whether or not I would be working the following semester (Spring 2001).  Why not just say no?  Pride again.  I thought that I could last a while longer and I quite liked the hours.  I suppose ‘Coffee-Man’ has never really been favorably disposed towards me since that run-around bit.  In any case, I had largely determined that I would not be coming back.  Then my weekend shift came about.  ‘Ra’ was managing at the time, and I had long since grown most comfortable with her, simply out of long familiarity with her style.  I mention my grief (only in vaguest terms) and she turns out to be surprisingly sympathetic, almost plaintive.  I’m still not sure why.  Anyway, ‘Ra’ is the main reason I stayed.  She was only planning to remain for the first few weeks of the next semester, so I figured that I could have fun with her (offsetting ‘Err’) while getting used to the other managers (a couple more had come into their own during this time). 

            Hence, I returned the Spring 2001 semester.  All the same, I made no secret of the fact that I intended to be gone by March, or that I had things I was going to say when I left.  Perhaps they got tired of hearing this and I was placed under ‘observation.’  Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.  I do know that I continued working largely as I had, doing my job to the maximum quality that I felt was worthwhile (I think that this attitude actually kept me a bit above average overall), avoiding the management whenever possible, and so on.  Remember ‘An’?  Remember how I kept alluding to the fact that I shouldn’t have worried so much about her?  Well, she has proven to be a substantially better manager than a supervisor.  While I retain my sore spot, I find that it’s harder and harder to maintain the image of a ‘bad’ ‘An.’  No, she never apologized (I don’t suspect that she could even recall the incident), but she did end up treating the employees with respect.  That may sound like a given, but, remember, this is the Wilkerson Dining Center.  This meant that ‘An’ was not my satan as I had so long suspected.

            ‘Err’ revealed himself rather quickly.  He did stop trying to win me over (no, I still don’t know to or from what), but he also seemed to be getting more on the other employees’ nerves.  I was spared that for some time, which probably should have clued me in (I’m not the fastest on the uptake in case you haven’t already figured it out).  Initially (i.e. the first week) I was not working Late Night.  By the second week I was working one shift a week (and occasionally helping out at other times).

            Why go back to Late Night since that is my problem area?  I am in college, and I upgraded my desktop over the winter vacation.  I needed money.  Actually, I still do, so if any of you care to contribute, please feel free.  I did not rely on Late Night, however, for I worked weekends just as I always had.  A bit of organizational trivia:  the weekends are set on an alternating schedule, so I only actually had to work them once every two weeks.  But, I needed money, my parents took three months off to enjoy their retirement, and I had nothing better to do.  So, largely from the beginning of the semester, I had worked at least one shift almost every weekend, whether scheduled or not.  Now comes the trouble part:  I was actually going out of town on a recent weekend during which I was scheduled to work three of the four shifts.  The dining center policy is to find someone to replace you if it is not possible to make a shift.  I tried to get replacements (I got one covered) and I informed the relevant managers (‘An’ being one) weeks ahead of time that I would not be available.  I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to cover them all anyway (who really wants to work weekends when you get right down to it), so I took care to take any open shifts that I could in the meantime, if only to assure myself that I wasn’t just ditching the dining center.

            The rest of the story gets rather complicated, and even I do not know the entire thing.  Nonetheless, one aspect of working at the dining center should be revealed:  that of the mandatory student meetings.  They were held about an hour into Late Night (my shifts at least), they could be one of two days, they were mandatory, and I don’t think I ever went to one of them since the summer session ended.  Why?  Well, one of the days was always when I worked Late Night (I was supposed to be sent to the meeting, but never was, and I did not have the temperament to leave without getting someone else to cover my spot), and, during the Fall 2000 semester, I had class the other night.  Almost ironic, that.  My class was biweekly, yet always landed on the week of the meetings.  Okay, fully ironic, then.  Usually, however, I could get the essential news of a half hour meeting in only a few minutes of conversation with one of my co-workers.  Imagine that.  Anyway, this semester was more problematic, as I did not miss the meetings because of class itself (well, I did the first one, but then they switched days).  I missed the meetings because I was summarily canned.  Yes, folks, the journey nears its end, and this chapter shall soon close.

            ‘Err’ had always had meetings at the end of every Late Night shift.  Suddenly, however, he springs a full blown mandatory Late Night student employee meeting.  Predictably, no one takes him seriously (Late Night is a unique environment that even I can’t fully explain).  I could have gone, but I had also been diagnosed with bronchitis that day and decided to try the relaxed approach to recuperation.  No big deal, I go to work that night as normal.  That night (this is the Wednesday right before I left town), ‘Err’ again mentions a mandatory meeting, this time on the following Monday.  I don’t worry about it, I work my Friday shift (with ‘Err’ temporarily managing), and try to enjoy my weekend.  I come back Sunday.  I go to Late Night because I desire nutritional substance.  I don’t know why I went to Late Night to fulfill that void, but I did.  This proved to be THE NIGHT.

            Imagine this:  a tired student employee who had covered for another individual that weekend, resulting in her having worked brunch, dinner, AND Late Night (that’s potentially an eleven hour day with only short breaks here and there).  I take over for her after my meal.  I figure that since I planned to be up late anyway, why not help out?  Anyone thinking ‘selfishness’ at this point is right.  But whatever my reasons, I’m there.  Now comes the complicated part.

            Back to the last Friday for a moment.  By this time, I have a system set up.  Whenever it comes time to clean the dining room, one worker (usually me) goes around the tables picking up trash, taking back abandoned trays, and, upon the appropriate hour being reached, kicking people out (one half hour after the closing of meal, if anyone’s curious) all at once.  Ten minutes and all three are done.  It’s probably a petty power play on my prideful part.  I highly doubt that this pattern is followed on the shifts I don’t work, but I still see it as valid as it is the manner in which I have done my job every Friday since the end of the summer session.  I felt that, since it allowed the effective and timely performance of three separate duties, there was no real need for modification.  I certainly don’t remember hearing anyone complain about it for that entire time, and I would hope that I would have heard if someone had.  ‘Err’, however, shuts off the lights to announce the closing of the dining room. 

            “And?”  I hear you say?  I once again attempt a discussion with ‘Err’ and once again receive the age-old speech that essentially amounts to “I outrank you, so you therefore do not count.”  Obviously, I took this to heart.  If you’ve followed up until this point, it should not have struck you as especially unusual that I would, but I see it almost in terms of a tradition.  A working method that has the legitimacy of long use (and was actually developed as an improvement) is arbitrarily ignored in favor of a method that, I thought, is potentially disruptive to the individuals cleaning the tables, those cleaning the salad bar, and even the one cleaning the floor.  Belittle this moment all you like, but it is not one I have forgotten.  Especially since, at a later time, he made a clearly derogatory statement about one of the other student managers for infringing upon his domain.

            Back to the Late Night shift.  The doors are closed, the dining room is closed, and the last few steps of clean-up have been reached.  Picture this scene:   There is a burger grill (the burger bar, obviously) behind which are myself, ‘Coffee-Man,’ and another employee whom I do not know personally.  The grill had not been cleaned by said employee as well as it could have been, and one particular step in the process had been skipped entirely, as ‘Coffee-Man’ and the employee are discussing.  ‘Err,’ on the other side of the line, states (and this is a direct quote):  “Don’t you wish that you could hand-pick six people to close Late Night?”  What does ‘Coffee-Man’, who is the boss of ‘Err,’ who is the local head of operations, who is the one with the final say on all hiring and firing, who is supposed to make certain that student management works effectively, who is the last way to appeal any mistreatment by student management, do?  He makes a wry face and nods in agreement.  The two individuals in charge openly imply that their student employees, who they are responsible to train, don’t know how to do their jobs.  Out of every student employee that works Late Night, ‘Err’ and ‘Coffee-Man’ clearly indicated that they could not find six who they could trust to operate independently.  Imagine what this does for any conspiracy theories developing in my imagination.

I’ll certainly never forget that moment.  If I don’t remember it, no one else will.  Why?  Because the other employee is looking at ‘Err’ and does not see the nod, and no other employees are around.  How do I see it?  Am I wasting time lazing around when I should be working?  No, I am cleaning behind the food line, and happen to be facing them as I strain the mop.  Why was ‘Coffee-Man’ there?  Near as I can tell, he was doing the job of ‘Err.’  That is, he was overseeing the student employees.  Why?  What had ‘Err’ been doing?  The same thing he does during virtually every Late Night clean-up:  not working.  The Late Night shifts in which I have helped to close probably amount to about six to seven dozen.  I have seen him actually work perhaps five times during clean-up.  But he’s supervising, you say?  Perhaps two dozen times.  Yet he often complains the loudest when we do not close early.  Go figure.

            As can be imagined, I am seriously offended by this turn of events, the nodding just about as much as the actual comment.  So, I repeat history at the end meeting, especially once ‘Err’ brings up the mandatory Late Night meeting scheduled the following day.  Transcript (closer to the actual phrasing than the last one): 

            ‘Err’ (to everyone):  “Any questions or comments?”

            Todd (to ‘Err’):  “I have a comment about the meeting.”

            ‘Err’ (to Todd):  “Yes?”

            Todd (to ‘Err’):  “I do not feel that my attendance of the meeting will any longer be required as I hereby no longer work Late Night on Wednesday’s.”

* * * * * (this is essentially an series of questions about whether I intend to ever work Late Night again under any circumstances and my smart-ass responses)

            ‘Err’ (to Todd):  Can you attend the meeting?”

            Todd (to ‘Err’):  “I could, if I were convinced that it was worth it to have to deal with you.”

            Everyone Else (to Todd): Looks of shock, interest, or whatever emotion they had handy at the moment.

            ‘Err’ (to Todd):  “Just what do you mean by that?”

            Todd (to ‘Err’):  “I mean what said.”

            ‘Err’ (to Todd):  “No, I want to know what you actually mean by that.”

            Todd (to ‘Err’):   <shrug>

            ‘Err’ (to Todd):  “Is this something we have to discuss when these guys [the other employees] leave?”

            Todd (to ‘Err’):  “We can, but I don’t think it would do (solve?) anything.” [please remember, at this time I am was f*cking pissed]

            ‘Err’ (to Todd):  “Okay, you can just go then.”

            Todd (to ‘Err’):  “Alright.”

            I got what I deserved, right?  Wait, it gets better.  I never did go to the meeting, and I don’t try to officially complain.  Why?  Well, I’m not completely against ‘Coffee-Man’ at this point and I don’t consider the fact that he would not attempt to mediate the dispute.  After all, I consider myself to be an able and valuable employee, and I would think that the duration of my tenure alone would dictate some kind of attempt (also, while I did quit Late Night during the exchange, I never quit my regular hour shifts) at discussion.  How did my official canning occur?

            There was a mandatory student meeting for all student employees the following Tuesday, which happens to be yesterday as I write this.  I show up a bit early for it, so I decide to talk to some of the people working (again, none are busy at the time).  ‘Coffee-Man’ gestures me out of sight and informs me that:  “I filled out your termination papers yesterday.”  I say okay, and take off.  I don’t ask for any explanation because none seems forthcoming, and I assume that I know the cause.  I may not.      It did strike me as odd that no attempt to contact me was made upon the reaching of the decision, I was given no advance warnings about this consequence as procedurally I should have, and I was never given any opportunity to defend myself.  After leaving, I wander around to cool down, and return after the meeting.  I return my regulation-issue baseball cap (an empty gesture, but I figured that it was appropriate), ask for my employment record, am referred to the proper location, inform ‘Coffee-Man’ in a condensed sentence of my feelings, and leave with the promise of attempting an appeal. 

This brings me to near to the end, not far from when I would have quit anyway, but under more confused conditions than I would have hoped.  Sometime later, I’m informed by a sympathetic co-worker (yes, I’ve found a few that agree with me, at least about ‘Err’) that it was at the Monday meeting for Late Night employees (of which I no longer considered myself one due to the previous evening) that the final decision was made to dismiss me, but by ‘Coffee-Man’ in a somewhat ambivalent fashion (finger across the throat).  Not ambivalent?  I’ll see.  I have the pledge of courtroom testimony from an eyewitness if I should ever require it, but I know not how far I’ll go to find out precisely what occurred.  I intend to pursue this above the head of ‘Coffee-Man’ as promised, and I intend to get a full copy of my employment record.  I am all but certain that my appeal will be summarily rejected (‘Coffee-Man’ certainly did not seem concerned about my promise), but I will gain a copy of my record at any cost.

            That, folks, is my story.  Like it or not, agree with me or not, it remains the same.  Over three semesters of working for the dining services, without being written up (i.e. having a serious problem due to which dismissal was seriously considered), I have been fired for a reason that may be unknown or only partially known to me.  I have enough honesty in my character to be significantly annoyed by this.  All the same, I have enough honesty in my character to seriously consider that I may have been justly treated.  Perhaps it is my faith in karma and my knowledge of my own worth that makes me so certain that the latter has no real truth.  In any case, the end of the story is not the end of the affair, although it seems to be the end of my current employment.  For you who want a moral to the story:  Hope to Hell that there is a God in Heaven, because ‘Err’ and his ilk rule Earth.  

Author's Notes:

  1. I have given all of my recipients my permission to distribute this essay as they see fit so long as no alterations to the essay are made.

  2. I assure you,  I  will see this issue to its conclusion to the best of my ability.  I also welcome any comments or questions resulting from this work or the progress of my campaign.

Editors' Note: Article donated to this site and published as it was received with no alterations.