Thirty-one Fresno Unified elementary schools will soon replace their hot-meal programs with pre-packaged breakfasts and lunches, a plan the district says could save costs. Cafeteria workers argue the plan violates employee contracts.
Thirty-seven Fresno elementary schools already use so-called "satellite lunches" — meals prepared a day before they're served that are brought across town from the district's Nutrition Center kitchen to campus lunchrooms.
The 31 remaining elementary kitchens already are equipped to store and heat up the meals, said Karin Temple, assistant superintendent for operation services, and will transition to the new program in August.
Some of the details — such as deciding whether the district needs additional delivery trucks and drivers to transport lunches each day — still need to be ironed out, Temple said.
But she said the switch is in line with the district's long-term vision for the Nutrition Center, which opened in 2008 and already pre-packages 30,000 meals daily. That number will double next year, she said.
"It's well-tested; it's not a new model," she said. "We're good at it, and we've been doing it a long time."
Cooks who currently dish up food on site are denouncing the measure, saying the move was unilaterally decided by the district before the local classified employee union had a chance to bargain.
Susan Arguello, vice president II in Fresno Unified's California School Employee Association chapter, said she's received several phone calls from employees worried their duties might change. The union says assigning cafeteria workers new duties could violate their contracts. That's why it submitted a letter last week to the district asking to begin negotiations, Arguello said.
"This was shocking news to everybody, even us as labor representatives," said Arguello, who is also a food service manager at Holland Elementary School. "They can't automatically change (my position) without negotiating. They can't just do it."
Three cafeteria workers from Lane Elementary School on Wednesday asked school board trustees to stop the district's plan, which they were notified about on May 28.
Michele Neves-Ehling, food services manager at Lane Elementary, told the board that cafeteria workers already have 100 signatures on a petition aimed at blocking the district's proposed changes.
"We knew one day this would come, and change is good, but our community doesn't want it," she said.
District officials say they're "working with our labor partners in planning for the transition for the 2013-14 school year."
Some cooks will be shifted to a different school or the Nutrition Center, Temple said, but she declined to say how many workers might have new assignments. Middle and high schools employees will not be impacted and no one will lose their job, she said.
Union representatives said they plan to discuss the changes with their members at the union's meeting planned for Tuesday.
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