New York, NY – Union officials, members, elected officials, and concerned passersby gathered in front of 250 Broadway on Wednesday, August 5th to speak and hear about the plight of school lunch workers, who have been deemed essential and who have been working during the coronavirus pandemic to feed, not only students — but the public at large.
Local 372 represents 24,000 members working as school food service workers, loaders and handlers, and other at-risk professions including NYPD school crossing guards, who work in the field ensuring students’ safety as they come to pick up their nutritious meals.
Shaun D. Francois I, president of the Board of Education Employees Local 372, and head of DC 37, told LaborPress that conditions for the school lunch workers are extremely dangerous .
“In some kitchens the temperature goes up to 135 degrees,” he said. “It’s not good, it’s not healthy or respectful. They are designated essential workers and they should be recognized as such.”
In attempt to remedy the dangerously hot conditions, Francois is calling for kitchens to be outfitted with air-conditioning, ventilation, and filtration.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic Local 372 workers are preparing “Grab and Go” meals for all New Yorkers, although the program was initially meant only for children and seniors. The workers pack, prepare, and distribute three meals daily.
“We’re feeding the whole public now,” said Francois. “We need a permanent fix here. This should be a no-brainer. We just want respect, we’re not animals.”
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer called Local 372 members heroes who are being subjected to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions.
“Local 372 workers are out on the front lines of this pandemic, committed to keeping our most vulnerable New Yorkers nourished and well-fed,” Stringer said. “These heroic workers have been showing up to work every day to deliver grab-and-go meals to food-insecure New Yorkers, from kids to young adults and senior citizens. We should be thanking these workers for their sacrifice during this crisis, but instead they are being subjected to unsafe and unhealthy working conditions in public school kitchens. They have some of the hardest jobs working in sweltering, stagnant school kitchens that are unventilated and lack proper air conditioning systems. These working conditions are unacceptable, unsafe, and inhumane, putting these essential workers even more at risk in the middle of a public health crisis. It’s unconscionable, and we cannot allow that to happen.”
Stringer called for a task force to be established, “that protects the health and safety of all of the workers who take care of our kids and keep our city running every day.”