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‘People Are Just Angry’: Hundreds of Guilford County Schools’ Nutrition Workers Go On Strike Over Wages

Source: Triad City Beat

Many Guilford County Schools’ cafeteria workers walked off the job and went on strike for several days last week as they demanded higher wages after rejecting a new payment proposal by the district, Triad City Beat reported.

Eastern High School cafeteria manager Kelly Shepherd, who led the strike efforts, told Triad City Beat (TCB) that workers held a Zoom call following the Nov. 27 press conference announcing the school district’s latest pay proposal. It was during that meeting that workers voted to reject the plan that included a 4% raise for cafeteria workers and a 7% raise for managers. The plan also included quarterly bonuses for managers who serve more than 100 meals on average each day.

At the district’s Monday press conference, Guilford County Schools Superintendent Whitney Oakley said that the 4% cafeteria workers’ increase was always part of the plan and that the first 2.3% of the raise was paid out in October. The district’s 2023-24 budget, passed in October, doesn’t show those changes, according to TCB.

Workers said that regardless of how it’s structured, a 4% raise is unacceptable – it comes out to be about 70 cents an hour extra. Instead, cafeteria staff are calling for a flat hourly raise from somewhere around $17-20 an hour, depending on position.

“The problem is, people want more money,” Shepherd said. “They’re not satisfied with the 4%. They want more money.”

Around 200 workers went on strike on Nov. 27. The next day, even more workers joined in to protest the pay plan, TCB reported.

District officials said one of the biggest issues is that nutrition workers aren’t compensated with state funds like bus drivers, custodians and other public school employees are. When many employees received a 4% raise upon the state budget’s passage in October, nutrition workers got nothing. District officials said that they (the county) had to give cafeteria staff raises with their own funds, not the state’s.

Nutrition workers told TCB that there are other issues, such as the fact that nutrition workers are the only classification of public school employees who don’t get paid based on years of experience on the job.

Jackson Middle School cafeteria manager Lisa Hargrove told TCB that she’s worked for Guilford County Schools for 22 years and that she and other workers like her are sick of being underpaid.

“They just want to be paid for the work that they do,” Hargrove said, “and at this time, they don’t feel like they are.”

Hargrove said that she is now feeding 400-500 kids per day for both breakfast and lunch because the student population has drastically increased. An elementary school’s first through fifth-grade students are currently attending Jackson Middle while their school is being rebuilt.

“You know, that’s a job I didn’t ask for,” Hargrove said.

She told TCB that she didn’t get a raise when the workload increased. In addition, she said that it makes no sense for managers like her – who have decades on the job – to get paid almost the same amount as someone new.

Before the district released the new pay plan, cafeteria workers made about $15 per hour and managers made around $18 per hour. Workers said that with cost of living increases, plus inflation, it’s simply not enough money.

Shepherd told TCB that if the district removes the quarterly bonuses for managers – which no one asked for – then the district should be able to pay workers between $18-20 an hour.

Nutrition workers are also calling for the district to reinstate paying their wages commensurate with experience.

“People are just angry,” Shepherd said. “And this is more than just about today. It’s about years’ worth of being left out of everything.”
Click here to read Triad City Beat’s full coverage of nutrition workers’ fight for fair pay.

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