READING – The School Committee at their September 30 meeting unanimously approved a new three-year contract with the district’s food service workers. The cafeteria employees will get a 4.5 percent pay hike over the three years with 1.5 percent per year starting this year plus eight contract adjustments.
Including in the adjustments to the contract is the elimination of the old first step in the wage scale and the addition of a new top step for workers and the elementary and middle school cafeteria manager at each school. The new top step and the new bottom step are 2% increases over the contract that ended in June. Also a joint labor and management committee will meet in February 2022 to study a possible increase in wages in years two and three to conform to the state minimum wage law.
In addition the new Juneteenth holiday (June 19) was added to the contract and wording was changed so that employees may elect to pay a service fee to the union instead of requiring that payment.
Food Supply issues, food service worker shortage
In addition, Susan Bottan, Reading’s School Finance Director, informed the committee of problems with food delivery due to employment shortages in the trucking industry and other links in the food procurement chain.
She also said there were 11 vacancies in the school cafeteria staff. To help with the lunch operation in the schools, the School Committee suggested some positions could be filled by local volunteers. That discussion resulted in the following email to parents sent Friday by Bottan and School Nutrition Director Danielle Collins:
“Extreme labor shortages and severely constricted supply chains are significantly impacting operations across the Commonwealth, especially for food service programs. Vendors are finding it difficult to source food products and to hire the employees needed to deliver food products and dry good supplies to schools. School districts don’t have the staff they need to prepare and serve lunches to students. Reading is experiencing the impact of these unprecedented times within our own school meal program.”
“Currently, our lunch program has 11 open positions, which accounts for 30% of our cafeteria workforce. Daily we receive calls from various vendors apologizing that our deliveries will not be made at all, or items will be substituted with different products. Labor shortages and unpredictable deliveries have made operating our school meal program extremely challenging.”
“Given the severity of this situation, we feel it is important to reach out to the community to explore ways we can work together to nourish our students safely and successfully during this difficult time. Outlined below are some actions our staff are taking to actively improve the situation as well as some ways in which families can help:
Some ways in which families can help:
● Consider bringing in lunch from home.
● Pack an additional snack so that if your student does not receive their first choice, they have a little something from home they will enjoy.
● Understand there may be one lunch option instead of several choices for all students.
● Volunteer to help serve students. Each lunchroom volunteer will participate in a short on-line training program called ServSafe and complete other requirements for volunteering, such as completing a CORI check. If you’d like to receive information about volunteering, please contact Susan Bottan, Director of Finance and Operations at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
“Actions the school department is taking:
● Our School Nutrition Director is actively sourcing products independently and in her role as a Steering Committee Member for the Massachusetts School Buying Group, https://
www.massbuyinggroup.com, a collaborative to source vendors and build resources for 90 districts across the Commonwealth.
● Our School Cafeteria Managers, Nurses and Principals are creatively exploring ways to best support our efficiency with fewer cafeteria workers. One way we are doing this is through streamlining the checkout process so that students can more quickly receive their lunches.
● Our Town’s Facilities and School Nutrition Directors are working toward renovating a dry storage space and installing a walk-in cooler and freezer in two of our schools, which will increase our capacity to store food products rather than rely on daily deliveries.
● Our Human Resources and our School Nutrition Directors have streamlined our application process and are aggressively conducting outreach to recruit staff to serve our students”
“Please know that if your child orders lunch, we will have a meal prepared for every student that requests one and if your student has a dietary or allergy related need, we will ensure your child receives a meal that is safe for them to eat. Our School Nutrition Director and cafeteria staff members who serve our students lunch are committed to providing safe and healthy lunches, and they do an outstanding job!
Food Nutrition Director
Susan Bottan, Director of
Finance and Operations”