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Princeton Public Schools Cafeteria Workers Say New Food Service Company Has Cut Their Benefits

princetonpublicschoolsThe workers who serve food to students in the Princeton Public Schools day after day say they can no longer afford to take a day off of work if their own children are sick.

The new contractor that provides food service for the district, Nurti-Serve Food Service Management, has taken away the cafeteria employees’ health insurance and sick days, employees say.

“We serve meals every day and work hard, yet now we receive no benefits,” said Angela Clark, a Princeton resident who works at Littlebrook Elementary School.

Clark said 20 workers have voted to go on strike if they need to in order to pressure the company to give them benefits.

“We don’t want to do it, but it may come to that,” Clark said.

Employees say the company is making unlawful changes to the workers’ employment agreement without the consent of the union.

“Please help us,” one worker asked the school board at a public meeting Tuesday night, adding that many of the workers have cared for district children for years, some for more than a dozen years and others for 25 years

“We are not asking for anything we  didn’t have before,” the worker said. “We didn’t have too much before. Now we can’t even make a living. It’s not fair to us.”

Founded in 1987, Burlington-based Nutri-Serve manages school food service programs for 83 public and private school districts in Central and Southern New Jersey with an emphasis on nutritious and cost-effective school lunch programs.

Planet Princeton called the company for comment and sent an email Wednesday, but did not receive a response about the benefits issue. As of Thursday the company has still not responded.

Cafeteria jobs for the company listed on the Internet offer wages ranging from $8.50 to $11.40.

Princeton Public Schools Superintendent Steve Cochrane told the workers the school officials have no say in the matter. The district’s contract with Nutri-Serve is a for a term of one year, and the contract is renewable.

“We care deeply about our food service workers and we the value work they do with the children,” Cochrane said. “But the board is not in negotiations with the union. Nutri-Serve is a separate company. They are involved in negotiating the contract with their workers.”

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

  • Topp M. Hatt

    Pat- I think you need to dig a little deeper to allocate blame in this case. The food service company responded to a open bid process that asked them to deliver nutritious food at the lowest price possible, in order to satisfy budget constraints in the school budget which is so enormous that it drives property taxes through the roof and forces residents on a fixed income to move out of town. And why is the school budget so high? Maybe the teachers and administrators could kick in from their plump earnings to support the cafeteria staff.

  • This all reminds me of the fast food chain workers who are,
    with growing frequency, demonstrating for a living wage, sick days, and health
    insurance. Many consumers don’t eat in fast food chains, or shop certain
    big box stores, because they aren’t comfortable that management treats the
    workers well. I’ll bet those same consumers would like to think the cafeteria (and custodial)
    staff at their children’s schools are also treated fairly.

    Our expectation of very cheap and plentiful food in this country has its “hidden” social costs, even when we also want the food to be healthful whole food.

  • Pat Palmer

    This
    is despicable on the part of the food services company. These workers hardly make a living wage anyway (my mother was a
    school cook, so I know how hard they work too). I hope the board and the community will support them in
    asking to have a couple of sick days reinstated. Everyone needs that,
    and needs health insurance.

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