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Brockton, cafeteria staff reach agreement

April 16, 2021

Brockton schools and the cafeteria workers reached an agreement as the district gets ready to return all students to in-person learning, full time.

The Brockton Public Schools was the largest chapter to participate in Local 888’s “Food Is Love” campaign in the fall of 2019. Afterwards, the spotlight was on the successful contract campaign, where the cafeteria members made progress on pay equity and netted other big gains.
Local 888 organizer Larry Higgins said that key gains in recent years have included substantial raises and the addition of another step on the pay scale that kicks in when workers are planning to retire.
Then the pandemic hit — and messy situations arose repeatedly at workplaces all over the nation. This time around, things in Brockton came to a head as the school district switched from teaching kids online to having students in a hybrid model — and then began preparing to bring all students back to their schools by the end of this month.
Brockton workers, united in SEIU Local 888, held an informational picket on March 16 at the entrances to the high school. One demand was that all cafeteria workers should be able to return to their pre-pandemic jobs and assignments.
Through negotiations after the protest, much of their demands were met. There are more than 180 workers in the chapter. A major issue was that, workers’ pay rate should not be cut as some returned from furloughs. Generally, cafeteria workers who work six hours per day get paid more than those working four hours per day. The question was: What about workers who were not getting their usual six hours?
The district agreed to pay those people at their usual, higher rate. Also, the cafeteria workers got reassurances that, ultimately, all could return to their jobs, with their old assignments and hours, and stay at the same schools they were used to. Brockton students had not been in the school buildings from March 12 of last year to Feb. 23.
All along the way as the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, numerous issues for cafeteria workers have come up as the pandemic shook up the Brockton schools.
At the height of the pandemic in Massachusetts, last March, the cafeteria staff was viewed as “essential.” It was the first wave of COVID-19 cases and fears of hospitals getting overrun rose.
Brockton staff who volunteered to work got double pay. They took part in the district’s “grab-and-go” food program.
The rest, some of whom had particular health concerns, were sent home and paid as usual. As the pandemic dragged on, however, 80 workers were officially furloughed, and could collect unemployment benefits.
Now, as students return to schools, meals will continue in a grab-and-go fashion. Distribution is being set up so as maintain social distancing.
The Brockton district got a waiver from the state so that it could put off the start of 100 percent in-school teaching till the end of April.