Student Well-Being

Conn. District in Food Fight

By Jeff Archer — October 11, 2005 1 min read
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Parent volunteers in Hartford, Conn., are scrambling to make sure that students get snacks in after-school programs as a labor dispute threatens to halt their distribution.

For years, cafeteria workers in the 23,000-student district have prepared the snacks during their shifts, and then left them to be passed out in programs run for children after the school day.

But last month, a state arbitration panel agreed with a grievance filed by the food-service union arguing that unionized employees should distribute the snacks they prepare. That would mean paying them for their time.

How much?

“According to the terms of the contract, we would have to be bringing them back for a minimum of three hours, at time and a half, to do 15 minutes of work,” said district spokesman Terry D’Italia. “That’s really not feasible.”

The prospect that children will go snackless worries many Hartford parents. The district is about to begin the annual after-school and Saturday programs that give students several weeks of practice for state assessments.

“The timing is what concerns us,” said Laura Taylor, who heads the district’s council of Parent Teacher Organization presidents. “We want our children to be at their best when they’re trying to prepare for something that’s going to affect their school district.”

Ms. Taylor’s group has swung into action during the dispute to organize the preparation and distribution of snacks by parents. But, she said, volunteering is just a temporary solution, given the amount of work involved.

Food-service workers resent the implication that they’re hurting students, said Larry Dorman, a spokesman for the Connecticut council of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The AFSCME local affiliate in the Hartford district represents about 300 workers.

“We are absolutely incredulous that cafeteria workers making $11 an hour are suddenly responsible for the potential demise of the snack program,” he said.

Mr. Dorman contends that the real issue is a lack of respect by the district administration for the union. A grievance wouldn’t have been filed, he said, if district leaders had listened to their concerns.

Union and district leaders have begun talks in the hope of finding a solution.

A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2005 edition of Education Week

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