As students at the Hastings Middle School headed home in buses and cars on Feb. 7, they were greeted with waves from the employees who typically nourish them during their school day. Instead of the standard assortment of hot meal options, students ate cold, bagged meals for breakfast and lunch while the food service workers began their strike for more equitable compensation.

Even though their meals were dramatically altered due to the strike, many of the students smiled and waved back at the familiar faces on the picket line. Leaving the kids out to dry was the last thing the food service workers wanted to do, but they have decided to stand their ground in their fight for a stronger contract. 

Until a settlement is reached, the workers will continue to strike during the primetime morning and afternoon pick-up and drop-off slots at the Hastings Public Schools. On Wednesday, they will picket in front of the Hastings High School, and the next day they will be at one of the district's elementary schools.

According to Service Employees Industrial Union (SEIU) Local 284, the bargaining unit representing the 35 Hastings food service employees, the district hasn’t changed their position since their offer in November, which was vehemently rejected.

Since then, SEIU Local 284 representative Hal Goetz said that the district’s current offer hasn’t moved the proverbial needle whatsoever. He said that the district has held strong on a proposal of raises averaging about 2 percent each year on the food service workers’ salary schedule. 

The two sides of the table have vastly different appraisals of the proposed contract.

According to the district, their final offer includes pay raises “going as high as 31.2 percent spread over two years.” For 28 percent of bargaining employees, the district said that the proposed raises would amount to a 20 percent wage increase over those two years, while the majority of employees would be receiving increases of 10 or 15 percent over that time.

Despite the district’s claims, Goetz is confident that some of the raises allotted in the administration office prove that there is adequate funding available to meet the food service worker’s demands.

“Even though people in the administration office have been getting 9 and 6 percent raises in some of these years, the district is still trying to only put 2 percent each year on their salary schedule, which just isn’t good enough,” Goetz said.

SEIU Local 284 is imploring the district to raise the underlying wages for the food service workers by an average of 30% over two years. Part of the district’s offer is divided out through a yearly one-time payment of $600 per year, but the union is firm on their position that they will only accept raises that are permanent. 

Support for the food service employees sprinkled in throughout the day from a variety of sources. Along with other local trade union members, State Senator Judy Seeberger made an appearance in solidarity with the food service workers. 

From her post in the state legislature, she doesn’t see how the state can talk about universal meals and fully funding the schools without paying their food service workers an equitable wage.

“We can’t forget about our food service workers, the ones that actually deliver the nutritious meals to our students, and not only deliver the nutritious meals, but ensure that dietary restrictions are followed. I’m happy to be here on the picket line supporting them as they make their demands known and ask for equity and fairness when it comes to their jobs as food service workers with Local 284,” Seeberger said. 

Tammie Sieben, a cook at Kennedy Elementary who is approaching 28 years of service, said that community members demonstrated their support by honking as they drove by and dropping off donations to help fuel the strike.

“I had a mom from Kennedy, she knows I'm from Kennedy, and she brought like 40 egg McMuffin sandwiches and two cases of water. It’s wonderful, it’s really wonderful,” Sieben said.

While the breakfast sandwiches and other goodies were much appreciated, it was a parent’s acknowledgement of their value that heartened Sieben and her coworkers the most.

“We even had a parent this morning, we don’t know who he was, but he’s just like, ‘I hope you get what you want and that you get back to work soon.’ He had to make his kids lunch this morning, and he goes, ‘it sucks.’ That made our morning,” Sieben said.

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