Featured photo: Guilford County Schools cafeteria workers hold up signs during a protest for higher pay on Nov. 27. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

There has been an update to this story. Read it here.

Watch the full press conference here.

Breakfast and lunch will be served for Guilford County students on Tuesday, allowing a sigh of relief for many parents whose kids were met with empty cafeterias on Monday after nutritional staff walked out to strike for higher wages.

Schools will open as scheduled and there will be no remote learning on Tuesday, according to district officials.

As reported by TCB, more than 100 employees went on strike on Monday morning after talks for wage increases to match other public school workers devolved, according to an organizer.

On Monday afternoon, district administrators, including Superintendent Whitney Oakley, held a press conference unveiling an updated payment plan for cafeteria workers which includes a 7 percent salary increase for cafeteria managers. According to the school district, a 4 percent increase across the board for nutrition assistants is also included in the plan, with 2.3 percent of that increase having been paid out in October.

A screenshot from a livestream that TCB did of the press conference.

One of the main issues that both district officials and cafeteria workers pointed out was the fact that nutrition workers are not funded through the state budget like most other education employees such as custodians and bus drivers. That means that when other workers get raises, like in the most recent state budget when classified workers got a 4 percent raise, cafeteria workers are left out, leaving local municipalities to make up the funding.

“Another important thing to remember here is that the state doesn’t fund school nutrition programs,” Oakley said during the press conference. “They are completely self revenue. So what money brings in is what money we can put out, and that drives what we’re able to do but also unfortunately what we’re not able to do.”

According to the district, funding for nutritional services is determined by the number of paid meals served and reimbursements from the federal government. The district has not increased school lunch fares since the 2017-18 school year.

Also, Guilford County nutrition workers are paid a flat rate rather than being paid for amount of years on the job, otherwise known as a “step” pay plan.

Instead, district administrators said on Monday afternoon that school nutrition service managers “serving over 100 meals on average per day will qualify for a pro-rated quarterly bonus.”

Oakley did not confirm whether a “step” pay plan would be implemented for nutrition workers like it is for bus drivers and others. Instead, she said that “as they enter the budget planning year, this is the time of year we think about if we can do that.”

After the press conference, TCB spoke with Kelly Shepherd, Eastern High School’s cafeteria manager, who helped organize the strike on Monday. Shepherd said that the changes aren’t what they were asking for.

“We did not want the bonus program, we wanted it to be in our pay rather than quarterly,” Shepherd said.

L-R: Kelly Shepherd, Kerri Fulk and Shannon Faucette all work at Eastern Guilford High School’s cafeteria and walked out on Nov. 27 to strike for higher wages. (photo by Sayaka Matsuoka)

Now, he said that he’s meeting with other cafeteria workers to get a consensus on whether or not they will accept the plan.

“I don’t know exactly what we’re going to do yet,” he said.

During the press conference there appeared to be some confusion about the pay changes. According to Oakley and other district officials, the 4 percent increase for assistants was always part of the plan. However, many of the workers TCB spoke to said that they hadn’t seen that kind of raise.

District officials said that while a 2 percent salary increase was already implemented for most employees, that the remainder would be reflected in workers’ December paycheck. Still, some employees pointed out that it’s not enough.

Many, who make about $15 per hour said that even with a 4-percent raise, their new pay rate would be $15.60.

“That doesn’t pay my bills every month,” Shepherd said.

Here are the new pay rates based on the district’s updated plan:

  • School nutrition assistants to receive a 4 percent increase across the board with 2.3 percent having already been implemented. The remainder will be reflected in the December paycheck. In 2021, assistants were paid $12.25 per hour. Now, they will be paid $15.86 per hour.
  • School nutrition managers to receive a 7 percent salary increase over the last year. Managers who “were held harmless based on their prior year salary” to receive a 4 percent salary increase. In 2021, managers were paid $13.75 per hour. Now they will be paid $18.60 per hour at minimum.
  • Managers who serve over 100 meals on average per day will qualify for a pro-rated quarterly bonus.

Read past reporting on the strike here.

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