In March, as life on campus was changing rapidly, it became clear that many of the contract workers who make up an integral part of the MIT community would not be able to conduct their jobs on a sparsely populated campus. In an effort to limit the need for layoffs or furloughs while most on campus operations were shut down, MIT worked closely with the outside vendors that employ our dining, fitness and child care contract workers to extend pay and benefits throughout the spring semester, which ends on May 22 for some workers and on May 26 for others. Since that initial decision, MIT has continued to engage with our contractors to determine how best to support these employees beyond their respective furlough dates, so that the transition is as seamless as possible for all community members once they are able to resume their education, research and work on campus.
In a typical school year, most residential and retail dining employees, who are contractors from Bon Appetit, are furloughed at the end of the spring semester due to the decrease in population on campus during the summer. The majority of those workers are rehired for the start of the fall semester. Conference dining employees, who are employed by Restaurant Associates, typically staff events on campus throughout the entire calendar year and are not traditionally furloughed. When it became clear that MIT would not be hosting events on campus in the near future, MIT decided to permit Restaurant Associates to join Bon Appetit in furloughing workers over the summer; this enables all dining employees to access the enhanced unemployment benefits that are currently available.
A total of ~225 managers and service staff at MIT’s residential, retail and conference dining establishments will be furloughed on May 23, as most dining employees would be at the end of a traditional school year. A small number of workers remain employed in order to continue assisting the students who remain on campus in emergency housing. Bon Appetit and Restaurant Associates hourly employees are members of the union Unite Here, Local 26, which requires that its members receive two weeks of notice ahead of a furlough or layoff announcement. As such, all impacted employees were notified of the upcoming furlough on Friday, May 8.
Similarly, the reduced activity on campus has impacted the Health Fitness Corporation (HFC) employees who work at MIT’s Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation (DAPER) facilities. Like the dining workers, HFC employees received an extension of their benefits through May 22. Due to the continued closure of MIT’s fitness and aquatics centers, HFC’s staffing level will be reduced from 20 to 11 full-time employees, and nine employees will be put on furlough. The 11 full-time staff members will continue to maintain current online offerings, prepare the center for a de-densified, physically-distanced recreation experience, and be able to commence reopening any size program with 2-4 weeks of lead time.
All furloughed staff will continue to receive benefits throughout the furlough. All furloughed employees are eligible for unemployment insurance and $600/week from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) program as part of the CARES Act.
The Bright Horizons employees who staff all of MIT’s child care centers on campus, even as they are physically closed, continue to receive wages and benefits. They have been providing some support remotely throughout the shutdown for the MIT families that are enrolled at the centers. These child care providers also continue to prepare and stand at the ready to welcome families back to campus as soon as that becomes an option. We understand that access to child care will be a crucial factor for many faculty members, postdocs and other staff to be able to return to work.
MIT is currently considering how to reopen campus in a safe, manageable fashion that puts the health and well-being of all community members, including contract employees, first. Once the Commonwealth lifts the essential business restrictions, MIT’s leaders and others engaged in the Institute’s Covid-19 planning efforts anticipate an opportunity to scale up research activities over the summer. As research activities scale up and plans are made for more MIT community members to return to campus, MIT will work in tandem with the relevant outside contractors to rehire furloughed employees, with the intention to rehire as many employees as possible as we work to return to normal campus operations.
MIT values its relationship with all of its contractors and their staff, and thanks them for their constructive partnership during this time. Above all, MIT’s senior leaders are focused on bringing these staff back to work as soon as possible, as part of our planning for a gradual, thoughtful, and safe repopulating of campus, in keeping with state and municipal guidance.