Sources: Tentative agreement in place with Pawtucket school lunch workers

Sources: Tentative agreement in place with Pawtucket school lunch workers

UPDATE - Thursday

PAWTUCKET – Sources in the Pawtucket School Department are saying the union that represents school lunch workers in Pawtucket has reached a tentative new contract agreement with their employer, Aramark. The tentative agreement was reportedly reached on Monday.

A union representative could not immediately be reached. Lunch workers had said they would picket Friday if they weren't able to reach an agreement with Aramark during negotiations Thursday afternoon.

PAWTUCKET – Local students will have a day off from school this Friday, Sept. 23, if local lunch workers and the company they work for can’t come to an agreement on a new contract.

Supt. Patti DiCenso said there will be no school if the one-day strike happens, as no one will cross the picket line. In a joint statement with Mayor Donald Grebien, she said Friday "will be treated similarly to a snow day and notification will be given to the families of our school community as soon as we can provide it."

The two said they are "abundantly aware as parents, as are the members of the School Committee, that the families we serve every day expect a quality educational service to be provided and for their children to have a safe school environment to attend on Friday."

In an effort to avoid the strike, Pawtucket school lunch workers will be negotiating with Aramark Educational Services after school this Thursday, Sept. 22, according to leaders of Unite Here, Local 26, the union that represents the workers.

Ronald Beaupre, president of the Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance, issued a statement on the negotiations.

“The Pawtucket Teachers’ Alliance recognizes and appreciates the hard work and dedication of the members of Unite Here, Local 26 who provide cafeteria services in the Pawtucket public schools,” he said. “We sincerely hope that their ongoing negotiations will allow them to achieve a fair and reasonable collective bargaining agreement without delay.”

The 81 school lunch employees in Pawtucket say they earn 76 cents for every $1 earned by a male doing comparable work. Despite running a financially stable program, they say Aramark officials have stated they are looking to further reduce pay and health insurance benefits for Pawtucket workers.

David Freireich, spokesman for Aramark said for a story last week that company representatives “continue to bargain in good faith and remain committed to reaching an agreement that works for everyone.”

On Sept. 8, employees of Aramark voted 100 percent to strike if needed. The workers unveiled a mural showing photos of 73 school lunch workers who are ready to strike. The caption reads, “We do not want to strike, but we will. We deserve equal pay.”

Grebien and DiCenso said the remain confident that the parties will be able to negotiate a mutually beneficial agreement.

"We and the School Committee greatly appreciate and value the great work that the union members do on behalf of our school community as well as the service that Aramark provides," they said. "In any negotiation, the needs of labor and the needs of management must be balanced and this case is no different.

"Education is our key priority and we want to make sure everything is done to prevent an interruption in the school calendar for our students, teachers, and other staff – including those who work for Aramark," they added.

The call for equal pay in Pawtucket comes weeks after Massachusetts’s Governor Charlie Baker signed a pay equity bill into law making the circumstances occurring in Pawtucket illegal in Massachusetts, say local school lunch workers.

The local lunch program’s revenues, in addition to funding all expenses, allows Aramark to take more than $250,000 back to its out-of-state headquarters each year, say the local workers. They claim Aramark has also asserted the right to make changes in work conditions, including changing employee hours, unilaterally, without a contract. This action is currently under legal challenge.

“I can’t believe that Aramark is treating us this way. Enough is enough,” said Jayne Rainville, lead cook at Jenks Junior High, in a statement. “We deserve to be treated fairly.”

Carolyn DeOliveira, Lead Cook at Nathanael Greene Elementary School, said she pours her “heart and soul” into her job because she cares about students.

“Aramark is trying to take advantage of our passion,” she said. “Like I taught my kids and my grandkids, there comes a time when you have to put your foot down and stand up.”

Kate Massey, a worker at Shea High School, said she does the work for the students.

“For too many, we serve the only meal(s) they will eat all day,” she said. “The way Aramark is treating us makes it harder for us to take care of the kids.”