UT-Austin closes Commons Conference Center and Café at J.J. Pickle Research Campus, leaving employees in limbo

Andrew Zhang

UT closed the Commons Conference Center and Café at the J.J. Pickle Research Center indefinitely Nov. 13 because of the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on operations, though the café hopes to reopen, according to the Commons Conference Center website

Veronica Trevino, media manager for Financial and Administrative Services Communications, said in an email that 13 affiliated employees were given the option to go on furlough or leave as a result of the closing. The Texas State Employees Union is advocating against the decision.

“Closing the Commons Conference Center and Cafe was a difficult decision to make,” Trevino said in an email. “The University understands the cafe is (a) staple at the Pickle Research Campus and that the friendly and talented Commons staff are appreciated by our campus community.”

Trevino said the choice employees were given to either go on furlough or leave is consistent with the financial mitigation measures UT has put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Trevino said staff members were notified of the closure Nov. 12, one day before the café closed.

In response to the closing, the Texas State Employees Union started a letter-writing campaign asking the University to reinstate the workers. As of Tuesday, 102 letters had been sent to UT.

“Imagine how difficult it will be for those individuals to support themselves and their families during this national crisis,” the sample letter said. “Each of these individuals is integral to the work at the Pickle Campus. More importantly, they’re part of our community and will be going into the holiday season facing unemployment, made worse by the pandemic.