New Haven plans to give school cafeteria workers raises 4 years in a row

The Davis Academy for Arts & Design Innovation in New Haven photographed on January 12, 2021.

The Davis Academy for Arts & Design Innovation in New Haven photographed on January 12, 2021.

Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media

NEW HAVEN — School food service workers should expect an annual raise for the next four years, according to city officials.

According to city officials, negotiations for a four-year contract for Unite Here, Local 217 — which represents hospitality workers in the city, including school food workers — have been successful with union members overwhelmingly ratifying a contract.

Now, city Budget Director Michael Gormany said, there is a tentative agreement pending aldermanic approval.

According to Gormany, the union includes 195 positions, of which 164 are filled.

The contract, which would run through the 2024 fiscal year, would give union workers a 2.5 percent wage increase in the current fiscal year, a 2.75 percent wage increase next year and a 3 percent annual increase in the following two years.

Gormany estimated that to pay food service workers retroactively for this year would add an additional $50,000 in expenses to the food service budget. That estimation was included in the estimated $2 million deficit for the district’s food service program he reported to the Board of Education last month.

A request for comment from an organizer for Unite Here Local 217 was not immediately returned.

Unlike several other unions, there is no step movement for school meal service workers, Gormany said, so they have the same wage based on job title without years of service as a factor.

In addition to the wage increases, Gormany said the city also has offered the union a new health insurance program that includes an added tier.

“There are employees who basically have a richer plan that could be covered under (the) lesser plan but have a lot of the same benefits,” he said.

The city and food service program covers 90 percent of health care costs through a cost sharing agreement.

Gormany said the financial benefits to the program would be reliant upon enrollment in the program. He said he estimates about $100,000 in annual savings to the city, which would offset the cost of the increase in wages in the city’s books.

“I was very happy with where this ended,” said New Haven Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Phil Penn.

Although some school districts in the state outsource their food service programs to contractors, the New Haven school district operates its own food service program. The program, ordinarily self-sustaining financially, has lost revenue during the pandemic as the number of meals served daily has cratered. The drop in meals served means the program receives a smaller federal reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through its National School Lunch program. Despite the drop in revenue, the district has kept its food service workers employed throughout the pandemic.