“We need help. We just need help.”
That was the sentiment shared by dozens of Child Nutrition Program (CNP) workers in attendance at the final public hearing for the new Mobile County Public School System (MCPSS) budget on Sept. 13.
After the first hearing — held just days prior — had no public input, around 40 cafeteria workers and managers were in attendance and expressed their concerns regarding multiple issues.
When the first volume of the budget came out, higher raises were included for most of the faculty and staff employed by MCPSS. However, cafeteria workers and managers received only a slight increase.
According to the latest revision to the budget provided by MCPSS, most CNP assistants stand to receive a raise of $600 to $700 for the year. The raises provided to CNP managers averaged around $1,100.
The starting salary for cafeteria workers stood at $13,113 for the 2021-22 school year as managers began at $27,956.
As the structuring currently stands, CNP workers are only able to max out their salary at $22,338 if they are on their 27th step raise, whereas managers are only able to reach a salary of $41,788.
MCPSS Board President Bill Foster said the final decision was far from over and the only way the board can make the appropriate changes is by hearing the input of the public.
“We will certainly take into consideration some of the things we have learned here today,” Foster said. “I knew we were short on cafeteria workers and we were critical in the system because of it. We are not finished by any means with the salary schedule. We have made some adjustments already but we are still receiving input.”
A CNP worker with Mary G. Montgomery High School addressed the board and said, “For a lot of people in here, this is their only source of income. You go into a store and buy a jar of mayonnaise and it’s $8 a jar. That’s a little over an hour of work for most of us. It’s a big deal when a majority of your CNP workers are making below the poverty level.”
One CNP assistant who addressed the board detailed her experience in attempting to find affordable housing while having to work two jobs to make ends meet.
“I tried to take on a second job doing cleaning work,” she said. “But I couldn’t do it because my body was already broken at the end of the day. I’m at a point in my life where I want a house. I know how difficult it is to go to the bank and ask for a loan. I even went through Habitat for Humanity and I can’t even get a home through Habitat.”
CNP assistants work 187 days per year. Most are under contract as six- or seven-hour workers. But most assistants work well past the six- or seven-hour window they were hired for without being compensated extra. As a result, the workers are oftentimes forced to handle multiple aspects of the job at a time, forcing other areas to suffer from the lack of help.
Having been with the school system as a CNP worker for 20 years, a manager with B.C. Rain High School told the board she makes less than $30,000 per year. And due to the lack of help and pay, she has almost reached her breaking point.
“Monday, I put up $3,000 worth of groceries by myself because my workers had to feed the children,” she said. “I also caught up on the work leftover from Thursday and Friday, prepared my orders for the next week and I worked the serving lines both ways. We need help. Everyone I called back about a job either didn’t call back or when they get the facts from human resources, they don’t want the job. I love what I do and I had planned on being here for 30 years but as of right now, when I hit 25, I’m leaving and I’m never coming back.”
Many workers who spoke at the meeting expressed that oftentimes they are forced to work their shifts down two, three and sometimes four workers, forcing others to pick up the slack.
Two cafeteria workers who were in attendance at the meeting. They also expressed their concerns over the lack of help in the workplace and the low increase in pay originally suggested by the board.
Both say the amount of work and lack of sufficient pay for their jobs is making it difficult to stay doing what they are passionate about.
“We all looked at the salary and noticed how little of a raise they gave us,” One of the workers, who asked to remain anonymous, said. “We decided we needed to come and speak up on behalf of all cafeteria workers. It just irritates us that they can go to a fast food place and make $14 or $15 an hour and then they are making $11 an hour to feed the children of the Mobile County Public Schools.”
“I love feeding the children and I love my job but we need better pay,” another said.
“I’m working past eight hours and not getting paid for it. Because we clock in, but we don’t have to clock out, and I just wish something would be done to improve the situation,” A worker said while addressing the board.
While the final determination on what can and will be done for CNP workers in the salary schedule has yet to be finalized, Foster said personally, he would like to see a raise given.
“In my own opinion, I am in favor of CNP workers receiving additional consideration in terms of pay,” Foster told Lagniappe. “We have talked board member to board member about this and I have sent a text to our CFO telling her that I would support something of this nature.”
The MCPSS Board is scheduled to hold a work session on Tuesday, Sept. 21, with the regular board meeting on Monday, Sept. 26.
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