The Hartford school system
has stopped providing snacks to hundreds of children in after-school
programs because of a union grievance by food service workers
who are demanding they be paid to distribute them.
While union officials say they
are simply asking the district to honor their contract, school
officials say they cannot afford the additional labor costs and
have stopped providing snacks to about 1,000 children in a variety
of after-school programs.
If the school district does not
find a way around an order by a three-member arbitration panel
in the next few weeks, an additional 1,200 children could be
affected when Saturday and weekday tutorials for the Connecticut
Mastery Tests begin in October.
"We want to feed these
children, but the union leadership is not letting us," said
district spokesman Terry D'Italia. "We're in a bind and
we've got to figure out an alternative."
In the meantime, some community
organizations running the after- school programs for the district
have purchased snacks on their own. But organizers say they cannot
afford to continue doing that.
The school district has used a
federal grant to pay for the prepackaged nibbles -- cheese and
crackers or peanut butter crackers, cereal and milk or juice,
which are handed out by program personnel.
If food service workers were called
in to work, school officials say they would have to pay the workers
overtime for a minimum of three hours, which would cost hundreds
of thousands of dollars a year.
"The grant is very specific
and it does not contemplate food service workers being paid
to serve the food," D'Italia said. "That would not
The arbitration panel on Sept.
7 sided with the food service workers in Local 566 of Council
4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees,
who argued that if snacks are going to be served by school employees,
they should be the ones to do it.
While the years-old grievance specifically
named the "Super Saturday" program, which prepares
youngsters to take the CMT, the district's lawyer, Ann Bird,
said it applies to all programs in which teachers, aides, principals
or security officers distribute the prepackaged snacks.
Larry Dorman, a spokesman for Council
4, said that the fact that the administration forced the matter
to arbitration shows an unwillingness to negotiate a settlement.
He said it is the workers who have been wronged here.
"Somebody said `the
heck with the contract' and that's not good labor relations," Dorman
said. "It's most disingenuous to pit the workers against
the children when all the administration has to do is respect
If the scope of the work were deemed
to be outside of the work guaranteed to food service workers
by contract, Dorman said, "then the arbitration panel would
have ruled against us."
In pressing the grievance, the
union noted that the district had found funds to pay teachers,
security guards and aides to staff the enrichment and educational
Kathy Evans, program development
director for Organized Parents Make a Difference, a community-based
organization that oversees after-school programs for about 700
youngsters, said that as soon as her group realized that youngsters
would not get snacks, her employees rushed out and bought food.
Some of the children eat lunch
as early as 10 a.m., she said, and it is just not reasonable
to expect them to wait until dinner to eat. The group offers
such programs as dance, homework tutorials and yoga.
"We know how hungry
they are after school," Evans said. "They certainly
can't concentrate and they'd be miserable without something
in their stomachs.
"I think it's terrible
that because of adult issues, the kids aren't getting snacks
Still, she said, her budget was
not designed to buy snacks and she is urging parents to send
snacks to school with their youngsters.
Some parents may comply, Evans
said, but some cannot afford to provide snacks consistently.
At Burns Elementary School, for example, youngsters have the
option to take home a backpack filled with food for dinner if
they need it, Evans said. Parents who cannot afford to put the
dinner on the table probably cannot afford snacks, either, she
Bird said it is unclear whether
the arbitration panel's ruling will allow nonschool district
employees, such as Evans' organization, to distribute the snacks.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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