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Successful Strikes of School Staff in North Carolina Lead to Review of Labor Policies

GUILFORD COUNTY, NC—Cafeteria workers in Guilford County, NC walked off the job last November in a demand for higher wages. The walkout was supported by the North Carolina Association of Educators and its local branch in Guilford County. North Carolina cafeteria workers, known as School Nutrition Service staff, are not only employed separately from other school workers and not funded by the county school boards or even the state government, but they are often treated as separate from other school employees.

The reason for the walkout is a 2% increase in wages while other school employees are receiving a 4% increase. The walkout was successful in getting the county to agree to a 4% raise, although they did not win everything that they fought for. Guilford County Association of Educators President Joanna Pendleton praised the workers for their bravery, achievements and the solidarity that was built over the walkout. “I am inspired by the actions of our cafeteria coworkers,” she said. “Their powerful message to the district is also a powerful message to all workers that when we stand together, we win. Our cafeteria coworkers did not win everything they asked for, but they won a lot more than they had before this action.” The success of the SNS workers in Guilford County should serve as a powerful lesson to us all and encourage all school employees who are dealing with underfunding and overworked conditions to stand up and fight for more rights and mass solidarity.

This walkout comes at a time of school staff frustration boiling over into action across North Carolina. In Durham County, hundreds of teachers and school staff called out of work causing several schools to close. The January walkout was done to support school staff when the county indicated it would cut pay for school staff. The Durham County Association of Educators stated that they asked to county school system to, “1) not introduce pay cuts; 2) reverse the policy to erase years of experience from over 1,300 workers’ salary steps and 3) commit to regular meetings with union members to discuss how to create excellent working conditions and most of all, the learning conditions that our students deserve.” The DAE has also stated that they are pushing for a “Meet and Confer policy” in which union members will sit down and negotiate contracts and salary decisions at the county level.

In February, the county voted to create a committee to investigate the “Meet and Confer” policy and see if the county will implement it. Let’s hope the teachers and staff keep the fight going for our schools and our children.

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