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Harvard Dining Workers Across Campus Slam Lack of AC, Report Heat Exhaustion

Harvard University Dining Services workers across campus said they have suffered from heat exhaustion due to a lack of air conditioning in kitchens and other service areas.
Harvard University Dining Services workers across campus said they have suffered from heat exhaustion due to a lack of air conditioning in kitchens and other service areas. By Sami E. Turner
By Cam E. Kettles, Crimson Staff Writer

After students raised concerns about dining workers overheating last week, Mather House temporarily closed its dining hall for lunch. But workers in other Harvard undergraduate dining halls who have also felt the heat are not seeing similar changes.

Harvard University Dining Services’ decision to close Mather for lunch followed a wave of extreme heat that swept Massachusetts last week, prompting Boston Mayor Michelle Wu ’07 to declare a heat emergency Sept. 7 as temperatures reached the high 90s.

While Mather’s dish room is air conditioned, workers said several other dining service areas are completely without air conditioning. Unlike Mather, those dining halls did not close during the heat wave.

“We all feel the heat. I think something needs to be addressed,” said Kemoko Sylla, a HUDS worker in Eliot and Kirkland houses.

“Kitchens are inherently hot spaces, given the equipment involved,” HUDS spokesperson Crista Martin wrote in a statement.

Martin declined to comment on where AC exists in other undergraduate house dining halls.

Multiple workers said that while they are encouraged to drink water and have been offered popsicles when temperature spikes, the heat has a damaging effect on their health.

“I was getting headaches. It’s hard to really work to perform your duty in a safe environment when it’s so hot,” Quincy House HUDS worker Jeffery W. Kines said.

Others, including Leverett House HUDS workers Robert S. Sadler and Edwin J. Hinspeter said they frequently get heat rashes and suffer from heat exhaustion while working.

“It sucks the life out of you,” Sadler said.

“Let me point out that their office is air conditioned,” Hinspeter said.

Sadler and Hinspeter said that while their managers brought in fans several weeks ago due to heat, they were taken away after the weather cooled down. Then, when the temperature increased again, they said they had to convince managers to bring the fans back.

“We had to beg for them to bring them back,” Hinspeter said.

Hinspeter said his managers had not liked “the look” of fans in the dining hall.

One HUDS worker in Kirkland who was granted anonymity for fear of retaliation said that the remedies, including the use of fans, are not sufficient without air conditioning.

“I remember coming in and one of the first things, I was like, ‘Wow, I’m soaked. I’m just covered in sweat.’ And I looked, and I had been here for 10 minutes,” they said.

“There’s one fan in there, which just blows hot air,” they said.

Workers speculated student outcry caused Mather to change its lunch schedule. But the HUDS worker in Kirkland pointed out that most of their workspaces are hidden from students. They also said large windows in Kirkland’s service area means it is particularly prone to overheating.

Harvard spokesperson Jonathan Palumbo said the University uses a range of heat mitigation tools including “installing improved insulation, increased ventilation, and adding ceiling fans.”

“Harvard takes all heat complaints very seriously, and investigates to ensure that any reports of excessive temperatures are not caused by a malfunction in building systems or similar, controllable, issue,” he added.

When temperatures rise to extreme levels, HUDS recommends using paper products to avoid using the machinery in the dish room, where HUDS worker Estefania L. DePina said heat is especially a problem.

But Valerie Johnson, who has worked in Quincy’s dining hall for 16 years, said outside the dish room, heat is a major problem for the house grills and other service areas.

Johnson said she hopes AC will be added to the serving areas when the house is eventually renovated. But she said she worries renovations to mitigate extreme heat will focus solely on student needs by only adding AC to the dining areas rather than areas where employees primarily work.

“A lot of times when they redo things, it’s not really with the workers in mind,” she added.

Both Johnson and Kines said managers have been alerted to the problem in the past, with little recourse.

“They know it’s hot. It’s not rocket science,” Johnson said.

—Staff writer Cam E. Kettles can be reached at Follow her on X @cam_kettles.

—Staff writer Jackson C. Sennott contributed reporting to this story.

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