Members of Houston ISD’s education support union on Monday demanded the reversal of a pay cut targeting thousands of district food workers, which union leaders said disproportionately impacted low-wage workers.
The union also requested a $500 bonus for more than 1,200 food workers, which union members say is justified after facing a year of decreased hours and hardship due to the pandemic.
“We’ve been fighting, fighting, fighting, to get a decent wage for all of our support personnel,” said Sybil Hunter, a 16-year HISD food service veteran. “For whatever reason, it’s always the food service department that always gets hardest hit.”
The cut is the result of a change in the 2021-22 academic calendar, which is five days shorter than previous years. The change would save the district more than $800,000, according to Wretha Thomas, president of the Houston Educational Support Personnel Union.
Thomas said the money should come from district administrators’ paychecks, rather than the district’s lowest-paid workers.
Hunter added that the food workers repeatedly risked their lives over the past year as they continued to serve HISD’s students, despite the ongoing pandemic.
The district began a community food distribution program in March 2020 as students transitioned to virtual learning. HISD food workers gave out more than 8.9 million meals, according to the district, before the program ended last month.
“They did what they’re supposed to do,” Thomas said. “Fed the kids, fed the neighborhood…they did everything that was asked of them.”
Thomas said the union has requested a meeting with HISD President Patricia Allen to reverse the decision, and discuss the additional bonus.
HISD did not immediately return requests for comment.
News of the pay cut came after the district announced a $2,500 pay increase for teachers during the 2021-22 school year last week, which was met with praise from labor groups like the Houston Federation of Teachers.
But on Friday, HISD’s interim chief operating officer Eugene Salazar sent a letter to the district’s food workers, explaining that the calendar change would result in a nearly $20 reduction per paycheck.
According to Hany Khalil, vice president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, Salazar pulled “a fast one” on the district’s lowest earning workers.
“The essential work that our food service workers have done to get us through the pandemic, not only was not recognized with a pay increase, but was attacked with a pay cut,” Khalil said.