A Metro Councilman has asked Vanderbilt University to sit down with the school’s dining workers to “work towards improving their quality of life” and perhaps find them employment over the summer instead of laying them off each May.
“This is an opportunity to continue to win over the hearts of Nashvillians and do the right thing here,” first-year District 7 Councilman Anthony Davis wrote to Vanderbilt Chancellor Nichloas Zeppos in a May 10 letter.
“The dining employees are simply underpaid to raise a family,” he wrote. “There should also be a grand effort to give them summer employment if at all possible.”
In his letter, Davis cites an April 29 City Paper story  on the concerns of Vanderbilt’s some 200 dining hall workers. These chefs cooks and others personnel earn approximately $16,500 per year, but most are laid off from May through August when the majority of Vanderbilt students leave for summer break. Paychecks during this period cease.
The dining employees, organized under Laborers Local 386, are looking for one of two remedies: Either Vanderbilt offer unemployment over the summer (which by state law, the university is not obligated to do) or the school identify other on-campus summer employment opportunities.
It seems unlikely a city councilman could steer the policy of a private university that happens to be Davidson County’s largest employer.
Nonetheless, Vanderbilt spokeswoman Princine Lewis said Zeppos had received the letter and plans to respond.
Previously, Vanderbilt has responded to questions from The City Paper by providing a fact sheet, which says the school does not hire dining employees for “full-time, 12-month work.” Rather, Vanderbilt hires “regular” and “partial-year” employees with an understanding between both parties that the job timeframe runs from mid-August through the first week of May.
“Vanderbilt does not grant or deny any employee unemployment benefits –– these are granted to unemployed workers by the Tennessee Department of Labor based on eligibility requirements established by state law,” Elizabeth Latt, Vanderbilt’s assistant vice chancellor of news and communication, has said.