Understaffing harms BHS lunch workers


In recent years, the number of students getting lunch at school has risen. This year, the lunch line in the cafeteria regularly stretches all the way down to the middle of the dining hall for the better portion of lunch. According to both students and faculty, the issue appears not to be that Berkeley High School has insufficient facilities to efficiently meet the lunchtime needs of its students, but instead, that it lacks the staff.

Food Server Assistant David Fair has worked in the Berkeley Unified School District for 13 years and he attests to the rise of students in the lunch line. “I’ve seen the rise even since I’ve been here,” he said. Fair attributes the long wait times to the fact that there are not enough people to assist in serving food. “It’s three people doing the work. We need an extra body here. We could actually use two extra bodies,” said Fair. 

Being short staffed results in a number of challenges —such as having to multitask and take on more work than is meant to be done by one person.

Employers have yet to support lunch service with the workers they need. “We asked my supervisor, and they say, ‘Oh, HR is not hiring nobody right now’, and they can’t find nobody,” Fair said, “We have enough time to serve everybody, we (just) don’t have enough people to keep the line moving.”

Students sympathize with the lunch service frenzy. BHS senior Arvin Ghaemmaghami said that the district should “absolutely” try to find new staff to assist in the operation of lunch service. Some also recognize that students have a role to play in the lunch process too. “There could be more (workers),” said freshman Emmet Holton. “But at some point the line would slow down just because it’s not that the people making it aren’t going fast enough, it’s that people just aren’t getting their lunch fast enough.”

Another cause of the increased wait times are the repeated instances of cutting that take place in the lunchline. “You got folks that are cutting that line … it drives up traffic,” Fair said. Cutting in the lunchline results in the already understaffed lunch service team having to divert their attention. “When we have to stop and tell them, ‘Hey, don’t cut the line, it slows us up,’” said Fair.

As a result of the cutting situation, students suffer disproportionate waiting times, with those abiding by the first-come-first-serve principle having to wait much longer than those students that show up whenever they please and cut in line. “They wait forever because of the cutting,” Ghaemmaghami said. “It’s to the point where you feel like not eating or cutting the line is a better option than waiting for sometimes up to 20 minutes.” Ghaemmaghami said that this behavior invites a cycle of cutting that “only worsens the issue” for those who wait patiently. 

Dealing with cutting is something that adds to the already busy workload that food service manages. “Food service needs some more people,” Fair said, “(In the meantime) have a sense of urgency; understand that we are working as hard as we can.”

The food service team performs an invaluable and indispensable job: keeping BHS fed. As their department is currently understaffed and in need of new hires, Ghaemmaghami said, “The lunch service staff need to be appreciated more.”