Cafeteria worker Kimberly Bigham passes out lunches at Weaverville Elementary.
Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Biden's administration believes school lunch workers should work full-time to be able to join a union.
It is part of a Monday report on increasing worker power in the US.
Schools are facing labor shortages, making it difficult for cafeterias to provide food for students.
A school in Ohio ordered pizza to feed students. Minnesota parents offered to help during a labor shortage crisis.
Biden's administration has an idea. Schools should employ cafeteria workers full-time.
This recommendation is based on the Biden administration’s first report, which was released Monday by a new taskforce meant to boost both union membership as well as worker organizing.
This measure could reduce labor shortages in this sector and allow another frontline group to bargain collectively for benefits. This suggestion suggests that Biden, who has stated that he would like to be the "most prounion President leading the most union administration in American history", may be reconsidering low-wage jobs that helped support much of the economy before the pandemic. Many service jobs have been destabilized by low wages, unpredicted schedules and lack of benefits in recent months. Workers quit in large numbers to find better deals.
The task force recommends that the Department of Agriculture investigate how it can use its "purchasing potential with subgrantees" and their contractors to hire full-time workers for school nutrition programs and school lunches.
According to the Atlantic, many cafeteria workers work "short-hours" and don't technically work full-time. This can prevent them from receiving full-time benefits such as insurance or health care.
The task force report stated that the Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to provide USDA-administered child nutrition and school lunch programs. It also has the power to make any changes necessary to implement such programs to protect the public interest, which includes the nutritional needs for children. This authority should be used to ensure subgrantees, and their contractors, have a stable and quality workforce of full-time workers.
Many sectors of the economy are experiencing so-called labor shortages. However, data on who is leaving suggests that workers may perceive it more as a wage shortage.
According to the task force report, full-time employees "likely guarantee uninterrupted service delivery of foodstuff services." Moving workers to full time could also increase the union-membership-rate density since full-time workers were more likely to be union members. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time union membership in 2021 was 11.1% compared with 6.1% for part time workers. The average weekly earnings of workers who are members of unions was almost $200 higher than their peers who weren’t.
After a long trend of decades, 2021 saw a decline in union membership. Unions represented 3.5% of workers who work in food preparation and service occupations.
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