News & Politics

Philly school staff strike could begin Saturday

Nearly 2,000 cafeteria workers and climate staff, members of Unite Here Local 634, are seeking a new contract

Local 634 members rally with state officials in Philadelphia

Local 634 members rally with state officials in Philadelphia Unite Here Local 634

Nearly 2,000 School District of Philadelphia cafeteria workers and climate staff, all members of Unite Here Local 634, are less than 48 hours away from their strike deadline as the union attempts to negotiate a new contract with the district. 

With their current collective bargaining agreement expiring Sept. 30, members of Unite Here Local 634 unanimously authorized a strike earlier in the month. Roughly 1,900 members, ranging from cafeteria workers to maintenance and safety staff, are seeking a $1.50-an-hour raise and new tools such as walkie-talkies to improve communication, as well as access to training on conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques. School safety officials currently use their personal cell phones to communicate with each other. 

Nicole Hunt, Local 634's president, and union officials were told their demands were “not feasible,” according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Members rallied in Philadelphia last week to call for a fair and equitable contract. They were joined by several local and state officials, including City Councilmember Kendra Brooks, state Sen. Nikil Saval and state Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler and Jordan Harris. 

“We treat every student like they are our own, but it’s hard to care for our own families because some student climate staff have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet. Our work is often overlooked and undervalued,” June Cohen, student climate staff and Local 634 member, said last week. “We rally today to demand not only a living wage but also the respect and recognition we deserve for the role we play in keeping our schools safe.”  

Members have continued to work through the negotiation process and there has been no indication of whether they will go on strike should an agreement not be reached by Saturday. A strike taking place, however, could disrupt the entire school system. 

“We are fighting not only for respect and safety at work but to be considered partners with the district and not an afterthought," Kristianna Brown, a union spokesperson, told Axios. 

Most of the union members, a large portion of whom are Black women, make $15.50 an hour, or roughly $32,200 annually. 

District officials have said they believe a strike can be averted.

“The School District of Philadelphia recognizes the central roles our food service and student climate staff play as members of our school communities. We’re committed to a contract that values and supports these members of our team,” Monique Braxton, district spokesperson, said in a statement to City & State. “As we approach the expiration of the current contract, we’re confident that we can reach an agreement with UNITE Here! Local 634 that serves our students, our staff, and our schools.”