Layoffs threaten fresh food program in Chicago

LETSCOOK

CHICAGO - As the city reels from an announcement on Friday, July 19 of 2,100 job cuts in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), documents uncovered by Unite Here, Local 1 indicate that 200 to 300 more lunchroom workers may be on the chopping block. These cuts would add to 163 lunchroom layoffs that already have been announced. Further layoffs would jeopardize a long-awaited new fresh food program that CPS plans to launch this fall.

Documents submitted by CPS to the Illinois State Board of Education and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request indicate that CPS schools "will eliminate the utilization of pre-plated meals completely," signaling an end of much-maligned pre-plated, frozen meals in school cafeterias.

However, the documents also indicate that CPS may look to cut 1,252 to 1,900 labor hours per day from its meal program, which would translate to the layoff of about 200 to 300 more lunchroom worker layoffs from what has already been announced. Workers say that additional cuts would set up the new fresh food program for failure before it starts.

"We have worked hard to get fresh food in the schools, but cooking food from scratch requires more workers, not fewer," said Linda Green, a lunchroom worker for over 20 years at CPS. "CPS is not being realistic about what it takes to serve the food these kids deserve."

CPS lunchroom workers, joined by parents and grandparents of CPS students, have campaigned for two years in an effort to bring more freshly cooked food to school cafeterias. As of last school year, 25 percent of Chicago Public Schools used a food service model that provides students with pre-packaged meals that arrive at the school frozen and are then reheated. In April, CPS lunchroom workers delivered 2,100 petitions signed by parents and grandparents of CPS students and by community members urging the Board of Education to phase out the frozen food model in school cafeterias.

The elimination of frozen meals in CPS cafeterias will provide inspiration to lunchroom workers, parents and students in other communities, as well. The campaign in Chicago is part of a nationwide effort seeking fresh food in school cafeterias, with workers in both Philadelphia and New Haven, Connecticut initiating similar campaigns in their public schools.

The layoffs of CPS lunchroom workers are part of systemic cuts since June of nearly 3,000 CPS employees including teachers and janitors.

Photo: realfoodjobs.org

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