A student weighs in on the Community Center dishroom, where working conditions are worse

 Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

Graphic by Carrie Clowers ’18

BY OLIVIA MARBLE ’21

On my first day in the dishroom, I was prepared to be completely destroyed by the work I was about to do. I’d heard people were dropping shifts because the work was non-stop. I’ve worked as a cashier and a dishwasher, so I’m not unfamiliar with fast-paced work environments that can drive someone insane if  unprepared. I filled up my water bottle, put my phone in my back pocket in case I needed to take an emergency “bathroom break” and headed to SuperBlanch. 

I thought I was reasonably prepared, but working in the dishroom was somehow worse than I expected. My first job was to take the plates off the conveyor belt after they had been cleaned and to sort them. From my time as a dishwasher in the Rockies, I knew to wear two layers of plastic gloves because the plates could be very hot. 

What I didn’t realize was that in the Rockies, I could usually wait a little bit after the dishes came out of the dishwasher before stacking them and putting them away. My hands had some time to recover from the scalding cutlery. At SuperBlanch during busy hours, the conveyor belt produces a constant stream of dishes, making the heat much worse. There was no time to wait because if the dishes reached the end of the conveyor belt, the whole machine would stop running. 

When there was finally a lull, I asked a more experienced student, “Is there any way I could get a different pair of gloves so it could be...uhh…less painful?” “Of course!” she said, and she gave me a thicker pair of plastic gloves. However, because they only came in one size that was much too big, the gloves kept getting caught between the stacks of plates. This slowed the whole process down. 

Eventually, the cart I was stacking plates on got so full that I became concerned they would all suddenly topple over. I looked around for another cart I could use, but there were none. I looked around for someone I could ask for help, but there was no one. The dishes were still coming in a steady stream, and I couldn’t take a break without stopping the machine so I helplessly continued stacking the dishes on already dangerously high piles. The manager came in later and said, “Don’t stack the dishes that high! We’ve already lost enough plates this way!” I nodded wearily, too tired to argue. I had no idea what I was doing. I continued stacking  dishes until the end of my shift, never able to take a  bathroom break.

Like any job that requires minimal to no previous training, it got better over time. I started using the cotton gloves instead of the thick plastic ones because they didn’t get stuck under the plates as often. I learned to identify the small round plates from the slightly bigger round plates just by looking at them, which made stacking them much easier. I learned how to do more tasks, breaking the monotony and giving me a break from the fast paced dishroom. 

Still, I have some qualms with dishroom work. The machine and new fan are very loud, making it hard to talk to anyone. The full-time workers are always kind, but they are often too busy to help. At Rockies, I made friends with the students I worked with because I could actually talk to them, and the full-time workers always had time to help me. 

But the biggest problem I have is the lack of training. While there were training sessions during winter break, many students could not make it to those sessions. When I started working, a student showed me how to do basic tasks, but I mainly learned from trial and error — mostly error. I think the dishwasher position, and any other job at SuperBlanch for that matter, would be more bearable if there were training sessions at convenient times for students, and it would save student workers from many terrible first days.

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