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Harvest Table declines to renew contract for workers with disabilities for six months

In November 2023, The Hoot spoke with Dan Sensale, the Site Supervisor for Opportunities For Inclusion, a Waltham-based community-centric dayhab organization that provides group supportive employment and aims to “serve individuals with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities, frail elders, and their families.” According to Sensale, Harvest Table had declined to renew its previously long-term contract with Opportunities For Inclusion to hire workers in their dining facilities, and had not communicated the reasoning for this change with Opportunities For Inclusion.

Sensale wrote to The Hoot in November, explaining that “for decades, we have had a contract with the dining services provider for Sherman and Usdan. Each dining hall was provided 4 individuals with disabilities and a job coach to work in the dish room washing plates, restocking plates and silverware, among other tasks in the dining hall.” He added that “The folks who worked there took great pride in their work, worked hard and appreciated having a job and being a part of the community.”

In that email, he noted that this summer, Opportunities For Inclusion reached out to Harvest table “about this year’s contract. After several emails were not responded to, we were able to reach the Manager and arrange a meeting with one of his employees. We were told they no longer have the dishwashing positions available (which was a shock to us, as no one from Harvest Table would respond to our inqueries [sic] over the summer) but discussed other potential opportunities for our individuals. This meeting seemed positive, and Harvest Table was supposed to follow up with us to discuss details of us returning. We have not heard from them since this meeting, which was a few weeks ago and they have not responded to emails.”

Sensale concluded his email by saying that “this situation has been very disheartening for our individuals, who had been looking forward to going back to work. We don’t have a reason to tell them why Harvest Table hasn’t signed a new contract with us, or when they might be able to return to work.”

Then, in an interview with The Hoot, Sensale spoke more about the situation. He mentioned that last academic year, a team of workers from Opportunities For Inclusion had a contract at the Sherman and Usdan Kitchen dining halls with a job coach. He spoke to a manager, and felt that there was no reason to think they wouldn’t renew their contract.

Later, Sensale said, Opportunities For Inclusion emailed Harvest Table about renewing their contract and didn’t hear back initially. After a junior manager reached out and set up a meeting, Opportunities For Inclusion was told that the dishwashing positions that were previously held by their workers were no longer available. Harvest Table did note that other positions, such as some in the C-Store and Upper Usdan, were available. Sensale told The Hoot that those positions are not the same for Opportunities For Inclusion’s workers, though, as some workers are not able to do those jobs.

Sensale added that some of these workers have been at Brandeis for over two decades, and that no complaints were ever made to Opportunities For Inclusion about them. He also told The Hoot that the workers that were once employed by Harvest Table ask Opportunities For Inclusion Leadership every day if there are any updates on the situation. Sensale told The Hoot that many of these workers were proud of their jobs, looked forward to coming into work each day, and needed the income to support their families. He added that without his organization’s contract, other dining facilities employees may be overworked, unable to keep up with the newly redistributed responsibility once held by Opportunities For Inclusion’s workers.

Sensale noted that Opportunities For Inclusion also has a program at Bentley University, a nearby institution that uses Sodexo as their dining vendor, which continues to employ workers from Opportunities For Inclusion. He added that Opportunities For Inclusion has workers employed with Brandeis’ janitorial services, who have maintained their contracts.

During the interview with Sensale, The Hoot also spoke with Joey, one of Opportunities For Inclusion’s former employees at Harvest Table, who said that he was a dishwasher at Usdan for years and wants to go back to work. He mentioned that he misses both the income the job provided and his co-workers.

Sensale also said that Opportunities For Inclusion doesn’t have any stated reason for this contract not being renewed. He also noted that emailing The Hoot was a last resort for his organization, which couldn’t search for other jobs for their community members while Harvest Table had them “in limbo.”

On Jan. 22, Sensale emailed The Hoot again, mentioning that the two organizations had a Zoom call where “Harvest Table offered us a contract for the spring semester, though not at the same capacity as years past. Rather than 2 teams of 4 and a job coach at each dining hall, we were offered 4 positions total, with the 4 individuals spending 2 days at Usdan, and 3 days at Sherman. Though disappointed in less jobs for our folks, we accepted this contract and it began 1/10/24.”

The Hoot reached out to Matt Carty, Harvest Table’s Guest Experience Manager, and Kory Laznick, Harvest Table’s Resident District Manager, for comment in late November. After declining an in-person interview surrounding the subject, Harvest Table was provided with written questions via email. After several follow-up emails and nearly two months later, they responded by saying “we can confirm that we are working with Opportunities For Inclusion.”

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