Monday, January 02, 2006

What Benefits?

We have officially hit the slow season at the hotel. I’m only scheduled to work Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday of this week; all in the cafeteria. On the one hand, I do appreciate that they’re trying to give me hours, but on the other hand, this just isn’t what I signed up for.

My husband does not like the job I have. He practically hates it. He strongly feels that I’m being taken advantage of and that the hotel was not upfront at all during the hiring process about the reality of the job. His reasoning does seem justified but I’m trying not to get caught in the negativity of it all or else it will drive me crazy and somewhat infect my time at work and at home.

My expectations when accepting my position with The Four Seasons were not unreasonable. I expected to be in an environment where there would be opportunity to learn and see something new everyday. I expected to take some classic techniques that I learned in school and finally apply them (terrines, pates, etc.) I expected to be around chefs who were exceptionally professional, intelligent, and creative in their field and excited and eager to share their knowledge. I expected to be working 40 hours a week, no matter what time of year. And without a doubt, I expected that I would earn the name that will now bear itself on my resume.

One thing that is causing some frustration with my job is my requirement to join a union. Not necessarily the fact that I had to join it, but more with regards to what I have to endure now that I’m a member. For starters, I am eligible for health and dental benefits, but only after nine months of full time employment. However, union dues are deducted from my pay check once a month. So I’m paying union dues for nine months with no benefits.

The Four Seasons has a one hundred day probationary period for all new employees. Within that one hundred days, the management has the right to fire that employee with no reasoning at all, while the employee has no protection from the union. For example, just yesterday, on the day that our holiday season ended, an employee who did prep work in the cafe restaurant was let go. Apparently, it was because he didn’t work fast enough, but obviously other rumors spread like wildfire once he was behind the sous chefs closed doors. This employee was hired in the beginning of November. He worked his ass off for the hotel for two hard months; the hardest of the year and then was let go right at the beginning of the New Year. What are the chances that other restaurants and hotels are looking to hire right now? It seems to me like the café just needed some extra hands for the holiday season.

The instant I heard that he was let go, there was a split second were I was a nervous about my own status with the company. Was I just another body for the holiday season? I’m not too concerned about it now because really, what can I do if they think I’m expendable. Another factor relating to the one hundred day probationary period is that those employees do not receive holiday pay. Scheduling is a result of seniority. So within each kitchen department (garde manger, café, dining room, banquets, prep), who ever has been an employee the longest can request certain holidays off. If they have to work the holiday, they can request a desired shift based on their personal plans. For Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day I worked at my regular pay (which is determined by the union and doesn’t cover our rent—its’s quite sad) and I worked from 12-9pm, the least desired shifts. For New Year’s Day, I work at 7am which is obviously the least desired shift.

I knew going onto this job that I would have to work holiday and I assumed they wouldn’t be the best shifts. I complained and whined a bit about New Years to my husband and my mother because we hosted about 40 guests the night before, but I got through it and now it’s over with.

But what really gets me thinking is that when future employees see “The Four Seasons” on my resume, they will have certain expectations in my abilities. I have learned a great deal about presentation skills, and I’ve learned a great deal about cheeses and some other menu ideas, but our sous chef doesn’t bring as much to the table as I expected someone in her position to. She doesn’t know how to make terrines and pates and the one time she made chicken liver mousse, it reeked of blood because the livers weren’t properly deveined. As a sous chef at a Four Seasons hotel, she should know certain things. Those who work underneath her should expect her to know and understand the techniques that partly define her department. Her management and communication style with her team is atrocious. She does try to relate to each of us, but at the end of the day, I would not look for her for support. It just isn’t there. I think she accepted this position so she can mark it off on her list and continue to move up. I don’t judge her for that, but it’s a shame that I have to be on the other end of it.

Despite the negatives of my experience so far with this organization, I still take a step back and realize that it is a unique experience and will do wonders for my future job searching. I’m not planning on leaving, but I do browse once and a while. Union issues combined with bad management make this position difficult at times, but the truth is that I’ve been at this job for just two months and that isn’t much at all. No job is perfect and many jobs are frustrating at points.

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