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California schools forced to compete with fast food industry for workers after minimum wage hike


SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Get lost in the hustle and bustle surrounding California’s new building $20 an hour minimum wage For fast-food workers, the pay raise could impact public schools, forcing districts to compete with companies like McDonald’s and Wendy’s for cafeteria workers amid tight state budgets.

minimum wage laws Effective Monday Guarantees wages of at least $20 an hour to workers at fast-food chains with at least 60 locations nationwide, excluding school food service workers, who have historically been among the lowest-paid workers in public education.

However, the need for school meals is higher than ever in California, and the state is the first to offer a guarantee Provide free meals to all students Regardless of family income. Demand for additional meals in California schools is expected to increase by more than 70 million this year compared with 2018, according to the state Department of Education.

But these jobs are often highly mobile and harder to fill. An increase in the minimum wage for fast-food workers could make it harder to fill vacancies.

“They are all very concerned. Most said they expect it will be increasingly difficult to recruit staff,” said Kelly Bogdanovich, president of the California School Nutrition Association.

Across the state, some school districts have taken steps to compete in the new reality. Last year, the Sacramento Unified School District – in anticipation of the law’s passage – agreed to give its food service workers and other low-wage jobs a 10 percent pay raise, then proposed another package that would see their salaries increase by $6 starting on July 1 this year. %, reaching $20 per hour.

Cancy McArn, the district’s chief human resources officer, said this is the district’s largest single raise in nearly three decades.

“We’re not just looking at competing and comparing regionally, we’re also looking at fast-food restaurants,” McCann said.

In Southern California, St. Louis Coast Unified Schools doubled its food service staff to 40 people after seeing a 52% increase in the number of students eating school meals. The district prepares 8,500 meals a day for 7,600 students in 15 schools – breakfast, lunch and even dinner options for teens with after-school sports and activities.

The district has since limited the number of entry-level positions that are hardest to fill while seeking to hire more complex positions, such as “culinary supervisor” and “central kitchen supervisor,” which require more skills and time, making them less valuable Job seekers are attractive.

“This makes us more competitive,” said Erin Primer, director of food and nutrition services for the St. Louis Coastal Unified School District.

Tia Orr, executive director of the California Service Employees International Alliance, which represents school food service workers and fast food employees, said school districts and other service industries must consider raising wages because of the new law.

“This is a good thing and long overdue,” she said.

But some school districts have limited capacity. In Los Angeles County’s Lynwood Unified School District, assistant superintendent Gretchen Janson said food service workers will start at $17.70 an hour and top out at $21.51 an hour. She said the workers were only working three hours a day, which meant they were not eligible for health benefits.

Jensen said the district is waiting to hear back from staff, adding: “We just don’t have the revenue to increase to provide additional funding for staff.”

Nuria Alvarenga has worked in food services for the Lynwood School District for 20 years. She now makes $21 an hour, but she said she could make more money in the fast food industry.

While she said several colleagues are considering looking for other jobs, she hasn’t decided yet. She usually works at an elementary school but recently filled a vacancy at a high school, where she enjoys seeing former students recognize her as they line up for lunch.

“I’m glad they remember me,” she said.

School food service workers have received more support in recent years amid a national push to expand school meals and make them more nutritious. That includes $720 million spent in recent years to upgrade school kitchens to better prepare fresh meals, and another $45 million to create apprenticeship programs to professionalize the industry.

Given the complexity of the state’s school funding formula, it will be difficult for lawmakers to mandate a raise for school food workers. That’s why some advocacy groups, including the Chef Ann Foundation, have proposed a state-funded incentive program that would give school food workers a raise. Those who complete the apprenticeship program receive a bonus of $25,000 over five years.

The idea did not appear in the budget proposal released by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom in January.The state is facing multi-billion dollar budget deficitlimiting new spending.

But raises aren’t the only incentives school districts can offer. There’s also health insurance, paid vacations, no night or weekend shifts, and a pension that guarantees a monthly income in retirement. Additionally, school food workers work predictable hours, allowing them to work other jobs if they choose—or during the summer when school is out.

“Restaurants are cutting jobs. They’re cutting hours. I think we should really talk about some stabilization issues,” said Eric Span, director of nutrition services for Sweetwater Union High School District in San Diego County.

Michael Reich, a professor of labor economics at the University of California, Berkeley, said those factors could work in favor of school districts when it comes to winning over workers.

“Working in a school cafeteria gives you more stability, job security and maybe less stress than working in a for-profit organization,” he said. “So there are a lot of advantages from a community perspective.” But that’s not to say they don’t have advantages as well. “I want more money. “



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