December 3 — 1:12 pm, 2009

Cafeteria workers vote, but union dispute continues

The fight between two unions to represent 2,300 School District cafeteria workers is not over yet, despite an election that gave UNITE HERE an ample 2-1 margin of victory in late October.

Just a few days after the vote, Workers United, Philadelphia Joint Board, a division of the Service Employees International Union, filed a complaint against both UNITE HERE and the School District of Philadelphia alleging that illegal practices and a biased campaigning process cost them the election.

PJB attorney Gail Lopez-Henriquez said that the District violated its obligation to remain neutral and deprived them of the opportunity to communicate with cafeteria employees.

“We have ample evidence that they gave an illegal advantage to the other side by providing them access into the school for the purpose of campaigning,” she said.

But UNITE HERE rejects the charges. “We won because Local 634 has represented the cafeteria workers for more than 30 years,” UNITE HERE president Doris Smith said. “Our members come out of our school; we listen to them. And they weren’t willing to give that up.”

She said the process was fair to both sides and that now she only wants to sit down and negotiate with the District.

The School District of Philadelphia replied to the charges with a written statement saying, “The District was scrupulous in remaining neutral through the entire election process.”

In the meantime, the cafeteria workers keep working without a contract. Both sides in the dispute have drawn attention to the low-wage status of the union’s members, whose pay ranges from $9.52 an hour for a noon-time aide to $13.15 for the highest category of food service work.

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