The Silent Suffering of K12 Cafeteria Workers

There is no such thing as a

K12 Education

For as long as federal funding for school lunch programs has existed, the labor that makes those meals possible has been low-paid and underappreciated. “A lot of teachers were forming unions in the 1960s and ’70s, but there was a reluctance for cafeteria workers to do the same,” Jennifer Gaddis, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and author of The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools.

Thousands of K–12 cafeteria workers across the country continued working at schools that were closed to students, making sure that the millions of children who rely on free or reduced-price school meals were still getting fed.

Cafeteria workers across the country still had to show up to work.

The Worker had to bag hundreds of lunches a day, bringing them to color-coded school buses that would make the trek to the nine rural towns her district covered. As unemployment rates rose, so did the number of families signing up to receive free meals. On the first day of remote learning, Spear helped make just under 400 lunches; by the end of the month, she and her colleagues were making nearly 900 each day.

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