Employees at Volunteer of America of Greater New Orleans’ Fresh Food Factor Program are Organizing to form a Union with SEIU 21 LA. The employees at Fresh Food Factor face low wages, lack of basic safety equipment, and many work few paid hours. They have worked with out pay to keep the school cafeterias running and to avoid being disciplined for incomplete work. When they started organizing the boss responded by interrogating a union leader and sending her home. The manager spread lies saying that workers couldn’t organize because they were a non profit. The Union filed an unfair labor practice with the National Labor Relations Board and the workers have kept organizing. Since than Volunteers of America has held meetings and sent out letters trying to confuse and scare employees, but they have stayed strong. Cafeteria workers are asking for your support! Take a minute to read the letter below addressed to James Leblanc, the CEO of Volunteers of America of Greater New Orleans.
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To: Volunteers of America of Greater New Orleans (VOA-GNO)
Attention: James LeBlanc, CEO
Dear Mr. LeBlanc,
New Orleans in modern times has been described as being a unique place full of prominent cultural influences: food, festivals, and music. However, New Orleans is also known for its persistent low wages despite the city’s economic resurgence.
Many of us in New Orleans have supported much of the post-Katrina school reform. We have children who attend local charter schools. We believe in our schools having high standards and doing whatever it takes to educate our children. We want our children to have bright futures. Unfortunately, while dedicated and hardworking educators have pushed our schools to get better and better, service worker jobs have gotten worse and worse.
In the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina 4,300 teachers were fired as education was privatized and the teachers union, that also represented food service employees, was decimated. Since then, school food service employees have been forced into low-wage employment, and the income gap in New Orleans has widened. Workers lost standards like having a majority of workers with full time jobs, a pension, 10 paid sick days and respect and dignity.
As a result of low wage non-union employment, New Orleans in 2014 had the second highest income gap out of 300 cities. This has left 1 out of 3 children in our city living in poverty, a problem that has fueled incarceration rates, a physical and mental health crisis, and an epidemic of violent crime.
We stand in solidarity with Volunteers of America Fresh Food Factor Employees and all workers who cook, deliver, and serve our children food. We believe that these workers organizing for respect, dignity, and a voice in their workplace is not only in their best interest, but also in the best interest of the students they serve. It would only serve VOA-GNO’s stated mission of helping America’s Most Vulnerable, to follow the lead of K-12 food service contractors like Sodexo and Chartwells in respecting the right of workers to organize, instead of pouring fuel directly on the fire of inequality. We urge you to do the right thing!
Fresh Food Factor employees working in the school nutrition programs tell us that:We don’t have proper safety gear like oven mitts to protect our arms, as a result many have burned themselves. We service 500 students daily. I arrive to work at 6:30 am, to cut 400 pieces of fruit by 7:30 to serve breakfast. I come in for 6:30 am, and don’t clock in until 7:30am to get this task done without being paid. It challenging to make ends meet, paying rent, water, electricity, a phone bill and insurance. I have had to take out a credit card and take loans from family members. I am a 55-year-old woman who has to rely on others for basic support.”
Fresh Food Factor employees who are responsible for feeding our children deserve a safe place to work and a living wage for each hour that they work for VOA-GNO. They also deserve a voice at work and the ability to build their union without harassment and intimidation by their employer. We urge VOA-GNO to not use shameful union busting tactics that create an environment of fear and hostility for workers. And we also, support the call from Fresh Food Factor employees on VOA-GNO to resolve their grievance and to respect their right to freely form their union.