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Philly’s school cafeteria workers and climate staff have a tentative contract, with raises

The 1,900 people who prepare and serve Philadelphia School District students’ food and monitor schools’ hallways and playgrounds have a tentative contract that comes with raises and more benefits and equipment.

The four-year deal, reached late Thursday night, came two days before the workers’ contract expired, and averts a strike. Members of Unite Here Local 634 had voted to authorize a work stoppage if union leadership called for it.

Many 634 workers are now paid $15.50 an hour; the contract gives them a $500 signing bonus, plus raises of $1.50, $1.10, $1.00 and $1.00 over the life of the contract. It also guarantees climate workers walkie-talkies — an early sticking point, with some schools refusing to provide that equipment to workers and instead asking them to rely on their personal cell phones.

The union also won three personal days for climate staff, across the board. Some employees with limited hours had only gotten one personal day under the last contract.


Initially, the district had balked on the $1.50-an-hour raises 634 asked for, and union members — and elected officials — publicly called out school leaders in rallies and at the September school board meeting.

On Thursday night, a delighted and exhausted Nicole Hunt, 634 president, said that though her members live paycheck to paycheck, and the thought of a strike was daunting, they were resolved to walk out if need be. In fact, while waiting for school system officials to answer 634′s last proposal, Hunt and others devised a plan — a rolling strike where employees at five schools would stop work.

“People were ready to go out,” said Hunt.

Now, the tentative contract gives her members “a sense of respect, finally,” Hunt said.

“They can no longer be unappreciated,” Hunt said. “They see that the district has now understood that our people mean a lot in the schools. We have been feeding the kids, keeping them safe for so many years. We can no longer be overlooked.”

The new pact must still be ratified by union members, who will vote on it in early October, and approved by the school board after ratification.

Monique Braxton, school district spokesperson, said officials were pleased with the tentative agreement, which she said “reflects our commitment to supporting our food service and student climate staff who are represented by UNITE Here! Local 634. These valued team members provide our students with nutritious meals, build positive school climates, and serve as important members of our school communities. We look forward to continuing our shared focus on providing quality educational services to Philadelphia’s students and families.”

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