New York, NY – Local 372 members are on the front lines of the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis, putting themselves at risk as they now step up to help all New Yorkers gain access to free Grab and Go meals.
Local 372 represents 24,000 members working as NYPD school crossing guards, school food service workers, loaders snd handlers, paraprofessionals, school aides, Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention Counselors and other community titles.
While some members are able to work from home, others, including school food service workers, loaders and handlers and NYPD school crossing guards work “in the field.”
The City of New York has established 435 food sites throughout the five boroughs, where Local 372 members are packing, preparing and distributing three meals daily. Originally, kids and seniors were the only ones served. Since this past Friday, however, the program has been expanded to serve all New Yorkers.
And with the job comes considerable health risks. Shaun D. Francois I, president of the Board of Education Employees Local 372, the second-highest ranking official in the union, and president of DC 37, says there are multiple issues.
“The average number of workers to a kitchen are 10 — too many for social distancing [to be practiced],” he tells LaborPress.
Add a lack of PPE Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] and often poorly ventilated kitchens — and the dangers to workers quickly become apparent.
“Some [of the workers] are in the basement, [places that] look like a bunker. A level below sub-level – no windows,” Francois I adds. “Some workers work in some disgusting environments. They don’t get the recognition and respect for what they do. And they are made to work with no hazardous pay.”
With the expansion of the free food program to all New Yorkers comes significantly increased workloads for Local 372 members. Although schools remain closed, crossing guards are still needed to safeguard children venturing outside to pick up meals.
The union purchased 20,000 protective masks for members deemed “essential workers.”
Working with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, Francois I has also been able to obtain 3,000 protective masks and have them delivered to school kitchen workers, school crossing guards, and loaders and handlers.
The DOE and NYPD “still haven’t stepped up, just giving…excuses [for the lack of protective masks],” Francois I says.
Janice Sutherland, a senior school lunch aide who has been on the job for nearly 20 years and oversees a staff of five, says “We were working without PPE until the union stepped in to supply us with protective masks…We are essential for the city, [but] we are not getting the respect and recognition we deserve.”
That kind of callousness makes Francois I angry.
“How dare you deem them essential workers without essential pay?” he says. “It’s disgusting, disrespectful. How can you put them at risk? There will be a lot of legal matters and grievances after this is over. I know this is a pandemic…but safety should be the number one concern for everyone right now.”