Philly Public School Workers Won’t Be Short-Changed

By Leticia Miranda Sep 30, 2009

Philadelphia cafeteria workers and noon time aides are calling for city council to investigate possible wage and hour violations. This could mean $4.3 million dollars in back pay for about 1,900 workers by the end of this school year Cafeteria workers and noon time aides are the lowest paid workers in the school district making $9.52 an hour, $1.36 below the legal minimum wage.

"We feed Philly’s kids, but barely earn enough to buy groceries, pay bills and make rent," said Claudette Honer, a Philadelphia Food Service worker.

The conflict between the city and workers is over a 2005 city law that requires companies doing business with the city to pay workers either 150 percent of the prevailing state wage or federal minimum wage, whichever is higher. The city is saying the law doesn’t apply because it is a state agency, not a city agency. But the workers are quoting the city code itself saying the purpose of the law is to "assure that as many employees as possible within the City of Philadelphia earn an hourly wage that enables them to live with more dignity and increased economic self-sufficiency." But it’s not just the city that’s doing workers wrong. School janitors, who are members of 32BJ SEIU, earn $8 an hour more than food service workers under their contact. Apparently, the workers’ current Unite Here union rep didn’t make sure their pay met Philly wage laws. Now they’re working with Workers United/SEIU to get the wages the city denied them a long time ago. Pictured above: a group of school district food service workers at a city council meeting. Photo by KYW‘s Karin Phillips.