2013 went out with a bang for lunchroom workers across the country! In Chicago, 97 Chicago Public Schools cafeterias won their jobs back following a semester-long campaign led by workers and allies. And just before Christmas, New Haven Public School (NHPS) cafeteria workers—members of UNITE HERE Local 217— voted overwhelmingly to ratify both a new contract and Memorandum of Understanding with the school district. These agreements pave the way toward cooking in schools across the district.
In addition to protecting workers’ union standards, the agreements call for the creation of Cook/Lead worker positions in New Haven’s 44 public schools—an addition of 32 cooks district wide—and establish a pilot program that will bring cooking into an increased number of schools over the term of the contract. Cafeteria workers have worked without a contract since July 2010.
This settlement comes after nearly a year of active campaigning where workers emphasized the district’s overreliance on processed convenience foods and called for a transition to fresh cooking. “I expect my sons to make responsible decisions, and that includes what they choose to put in their bodies,” said Jasanea Hernandez, a member of the negotiating committee and mother of two NHPS students who has worked in school food service for 9 years, “Right now, they cannot make good choices at school because the food we serve in our cafeterias is often highly processed or frozen. We have beautiful cafeterias in nearly all of our schools. It’s time to use them for real cooking!”
On May 8, 2013, cafeteria workers released a report that underscored the need to bring back fresh cooked food to our schools. The report, entitled “Healthy Kids First: Why cafeteria workers want to cook fresh meals in New Haven Public Schools,” was the result of extensive surveys of 110 frontline cafeteria workers. It argued that the only way to save New Haven’s declining food service program was for NHPS to make a commitment to fresh cooking. In the survey, 99% of workers said that in schools that have kitchens, kids should receive freshly cooked meals.
“I want to cook fresh food for the students, food that looks appetizing and makes the cafeteria smell great,” explained Eric Scott, a cook at Wilbur Cross High School with over 20 years’ experience, “Then more students would come in to eat the food.”
With their new contract, workers are well on their way to securing real food for kids AND real jobs for those who prepare it. Congratulations!
Don’t miss this great video with highlights from “Fighting for Food Justice in the New Haven Public Schools,” a roundtable discussion that took place at the Yale Food Systems Symposium in October 2013.