Lawrence Cafeteria Workers Rally for Their Fair Share

  • Reading time:4 mins read

By Matthew Walsh

Cafeteria workers in Lawrence, MA are “always the last in everything,” said Arelis Pujols.

Pujols is a cafeteria worker at the Frost School in Lawrence, and she has seen cafeteria workers passed over for raises, professional development stipends, and improvements to paid time off, among other benefits. Pujols is also a steward on the bargaining committee of Lawrence Cafeteria Workers (Local 3, NCFO, 32BJ/SEIU) that is preparing for contract negotiations with Lawrence Public Schools. Formal contract negotiations have not yet been initiated, but time is of the essence. When the school year closes, income for many cafeteria workers dries up. The bargaining committee is eager to secure certain benefits before the term ends – such as a $5,500 stipend that other food service professionals in the school have already received. 

On May 15, Lawrence Cafeteria Workers held the “Rally for a Fair Contract” to launch their campaign for fair wages and equitable benefits. There have been two other rallies since, on May 24 and May 31. 

Ms. Pujols recounted a time when, earlier this year, cafeteria workers watched their colleagues receive a 2.5% market adjustment raise, but cafeteria workers have not received the higher rate. “Our salary is not enough to pay for anything,” explains Pujols. The cafeteria workers demand a fair, living wage, which Pujols believes could be $27-$30 per hour, although the bargaining committee has not yet made an official opening proposal.

Another pressing demand is a $5,500 stipend for maintaining a ServSafe certification, a qualification for safe food preparation practices. Last year, Lawrence Cafeteria Workers secured this stipend after demonstrating that they held similar roles and faced equivalent certification requirements to workers in a different bargaining unit, Lunch Aides, that had successfully negotiated the stipend. This year, they are again fighting for the stipend, hoping to secure it before Lawrence Public Schools partially close at the end of June. Last year, the stipend was disbursed on June 23. Pujols noted how important that money was for cafeteria workers’ families that summer. 

The kickoff rally took place in front of the Lawrence Public Schools District Office, featuring signs, chants, and a picket. The event drew the attention of then-interim superintendent Juan Rodriguez, who stepped outside to speak with the participants. Mr. Rodriguez’s interim tenure ended on May 31, with Ralph Carrero, the director of a local charter school, confirmed as the next superintendent of Lawrence Public Schools.

The Lawrence Cafeteria Workers’ bargaining committee will present their demands for a living wage and equitable benefits to the district in the coming weeks. Pujols invited community members and allies to support their fight by participating in future rallies, advocating for the cafeteria workers’ demands to public officials in Lawrence, and staying engaged for future ways to get involved.

Matthew Walsh is a DSA member and labor market researcher in Boston, MA

Leave a Reply