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Schools, Union Trying To Resolve Snacks Dispute

October 8, 2005
By RACHEL GOTTLIEB, Courant Staff Writer

School and union officials in Hartford have been meeting in a bid to break an impasse over the distribution of snacks to children in weekend and after-school programs.

But, with no solution in hand, Hartford school officials say they have decided - at least temporarily - to have parents hand out the snacks, which are paid for through a federal grant.

That solution irked union officials, who have offered to negotiate despite a ruling by state arbitrators that backed up their position that food service workers alone should be distributing the snacks.

On Friday, they asked why the district hasn't told them about the temporary plan to have parents do the work.

"If you're going to have open and frank discussions, at least communicate with the other party that this is what you're doing temporarily," said Kevin Murphy, director of collective bargaining and organizing for Council 4 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Terry D'Italia, a spokesman for the Hartford schools, said that when the union and the district reach an agreement for the food service employees to distribute the snacks, the Parent Teacher Organizations will turn the work over to the employees.

Last month, a panel of three arbitrators - Chairman Albert G. Murphy, labor member Robert V. Canning and management member Raymond D. Shea - ruled unanimously that the board should stop assigning "food service functions to employees not members of the food service bargaining unit."

As a result, school officials stopped distributing the snacks, saying they couldn't afford to pay the increased labor costs. The employees' contract requires that workers who are called in during off hours be paid overtime for a minimum of three hours.

A federal grant pays for the crackers, chips, juice or milk that goes to youngsters, but includes no money for labor. The pre-packaged snacks had been handed out by teachers and others staffing the extra-curricular programs.

Monday, Murphy and other union organizers met with district officials to begin negotiations in an effort to find a resolution. The union, Murphy said, is considering waiving the overtime requirement, among other concessions.

"The document is a living document," he said. "You make it work."

But the negotiations have stalled, Murphy said, because school officials were not able to answer basic questions such as which schools distribute snacks on which days of the week, or how many students attend the affected programs.

"We're waiting for the information," he said.

Anthony Bento, staff representative for Local 566, said that union officials sought negotiations even before the grievance went to arbitration but that school officials refused to talk.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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