NEWARK — June 27, 2014 – Newark public schools’ non-instructional workers have gone for more than five years without raises and are working without a contract.
But the message sent yesterday from legislators in Trenton and earlier this week from the Newark City Council was clear: It’s high time for Newark Schools Superintendent Cami Anderson to negotiate in good faith with two SEIU locals and conclude labor agreements within 60 days.
The SEIU NJ State Council today announced that resolutions urging the New Jersey Department of Education to direct Anderson to initiate negotiations were passed in the Senate, Assembly and Newark City Council. The Council also expressed gratitude to the elected officials for standing up for the non-instructional workers who include cafeteria workers, security, administrative support, and custodians. The Newark City Council unanimously endorsed the resolution on Tuesday.
“We are finally seeing a light at the end of a very long tunnel for our women and men who work in our cafeterias, clean our schools, provide security and administrative support,” said Wilfredo Larancuent, SEIU NJ State Council President, and Co-Manager of the Laundry, Distribution and Food Service Joint Board, Workers United. Workers United includes Local 3, which represents cafeteria workers.
Larancuent continued: “We certainly appreciate each and every member of the Senate and the Assembly, as well as the Newark City Council, who stood up for our working families.”
“It has been demoralizing for our families to go year after year without raises while paying more for pension and health benefits,” said Rosa Reyes Maldonado, President of Local 617, which represents custodians and other affected workers. “This week’s support from our elected representatives in Trenton and Newark is the best news we’ve heard in a long time, and now it’s time to get started on making things right for our workers.”
The resolutions urge the state’s education department, which is headed by Acting Commissioner David Hespe “to take immediate steps to resolve the long-standing contract dispute between the unions representing non-instructional staff and the Newark Public School System (and) direct the Newark School Administration to initiate negotiations with the respective bargaining representatives to conclude new labor agreements within sixty (60) days of the approval of this Resolution. “
Since taking control of the Newark school system, Cami Anderson has failed to negotiate contracts with non-instructional workers. Non-instructional workers in the Newark school system include security, administrative support, custodians, and cafeteria workers.
Announced school closings will eliminate some jobs, creating further hardship for workers and their children. Not only have they had no increase in five years, but the workers’ paychecks have been reduced. State law requires them to pay 23% more into their pensions and some saw increases in their health insurance premiums of over 60% in the last year alone.
For example, 35% of food service cafeteria workers earn poverty wages of $13,900 to $15,000 per year for full-time work ─ as little as $9.40 per hour for public sector workers, and minimum wage (now $8.25 per hour) for those working for outside food service contractors. Ninety percent of these workers are working mothers who live in Newark and send their children to the same schools Cami Anderson is trying to dismantle.
Additionally, due to repeated layoffs in recent years, cafeteria workers are doing more work for the same wages.
ONE WORKER’S REALITY: “I AM WHAT YOU CALL THE WORKING HOMELESS.”
Teresa Tucker, Food Service Worker, describes her reality living on a paycheck that hasn’t seen an increase in more than five years:
“Well (my) story is like everyone else: overworked and underpaid. But my situation is this: I am what you call the working homeless. I work for Newark Public Schools in Food Service and my salary doesn’t allow me to live in comfort ($15,055). I am a single mother of (a) special needs child and it’s hard not to be able to afford the basic for you and your child like housing, food and clothes. There are times when I wonder if we are going to eat or if I will have the money to pay rent for the week. We are staying (at) the Riviera Hotel. It’s okay, but it’s not home. I am looking for a place to live and it’s been really hard. Most places are income-based. My income is too low and others that are not have a waiting list, or they (are) looking for Section 8, which I am on the wait list.
“My struggle like so many others is money. It angers me that we haven’t gotten a raise or a contract in over five years. Not even a cost of living raise, which we are entitled to for the hard work we do. It seems as though rent and food and the bare necessary have gone up but not our salaries.
“Why is it okay for me to tell my child her prom is coming up and she may not get a new dress or mommy can … don’t have the money to get your hair done for prom or a pair of new sneakers because hers are ripping? I guess you have to eat oodles of noodle again because that’s all mommy can afford right now. She doesn’t mind but she should have too.
“Yeah, I get food stamps: $61 a month. How much can you really buy for two people on that? I applied for emergency assistance. I haven’t heard anything yet. I’m close to getting an apartment now, but it … just trying to get the down payment going to different agency and trying to get the help you want or need is hard because you’re working, they feel you don’t need it but they don’t look at what you bring home, which isn’t enough to keep most single people afloat let alone a family …
“I find it deplorable that we are treated like second-class citizens and I can’t afford to live in my city, the city I love: Newark. IT’S SAD.”