June 1 — 2:09 pm, 2003

District cafeteria workers rally for a fair contract

On June 12, members of the School Cafeteria Workers Union Local 634 and their allies held a "Community Prayer Vigil for Justice," rallying in front of the District’s headquarters to raise awareness about the upcoming August 31 deadline for the renewal of their contract. The contracts of the District’s unions representing non-teaching personnel all expire this summer.

Trustee of Local 634, Samuel Cook, said that the union wants to overhaul its entire contract and achieve "parity with the other unions."

According to Cook, the cafeteria workers are the lowest paid and have the least medical benefits of all School District employees. He maintained that that the School District’s contract proposals serve to "turn back the clock fifty years" by threatening the workers’ job security through the elimination of seniority policies and layoff and recall rights.

The School District had no comment about the contract negotiations.

Former Local 634 member who worked at FitzSimons Middle School, Mamie Simmons, came the vigil to make her voice heard. "We just came here to stand up for our rights," she said.

Like Simmons, other members of Local 634 said they deserve a fair contract because they play a crucial role in ensuring the well-being of children in the District by making sure that students and staff are nourished.

"A child cannot learn if they are not fed," said Simmons.

Above all, Local 634 members at the vigil said they wanted to make clear to District administrators that they are not expendable members of the District’s workforce. A 23-year member of the union, Cecilia James, addressed her speech directly to District administrators.

Among the grievances James cited about her job were inadequate healthcare coverage, low wages, and lack of job security.

"This is not the end. It’s the beginning," James said to the crowd primarily full of Local 634’s membership. "This fight will not be won at the table but in the streets."

Organizations showing support for the District’s cafeteria workers at the prayer vigil included Philadelphia Council of the AFL-CIO, Philadelphia Student Union, Asian Americans United, Philadelphia Home and School Council, Philadelphians United to Support Public Schools, Black Clergy of Philadelphia, Saint Malachy’s Parish, and Philadelphia Masjid Mosque.

The fourth session of negotiations between the local and the District is scheduled to begin June 25. Local 634 hopes the negotiations will be successful, wanting to avoid missing the August 31 deadline after which the District can impose a contract upon the union.

The cafeteria workers will hold more events to raise awareness about their contract later this summer. Above all, said Cook, "the men and women of 634 deserve dignity and respect."

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