CA Schools Forced To Compete With Fast Food Industry for Employees After Minimum Wage Hike  

Source: Live About

California has implemented a hike in the minimum wage for fast food employees. As the lowest wage jumped to $20 per hour last Monday, the public schools face potential staffing shortages in their cafeterias.

There has been a surge in demand for school meals, coupled with increased competition from the fast food industry. It poses a significant challenge for districts that are already facing budget constraints. 

What Is the Impact of Minimum Wage Increase on School Cafeterias?

The state’s new minimum wage law guarantees $20 an hour for fast food workers. However, this does not extend to school food service workers. 

Source: Unsplash/ Annie Spratt

Schools throughout the state anticipate difficulty recruiting and retaining cafeteria staff amidst the increasing competition. President of the California School Nutrition Association, Carrie Bogdanovich, mentions, “They are all very worried about it. Most are saying they anticipate it will be harder and harder to hire employees.” 

Is There a Rising Demand for School Meals?

California’s policy introduced in 2022-2023 allowed students to receive two meals free of charge, breakfast and lunch, during each school year. 

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This initiative of free meals, regardless of family income, has resulted in a surge in demand for school lunches. The State Department of Education projects an increase of over 70 million extra meals served in the schools of California compared to 2018. 

What Are the Challenges in Recruiting and Retaining Workers?

School food service jobs are typically more selective in their hiring. They also traditionally experience a high turnover and face difficulty in recruitment. 

Source: Pexels/ Clem Onojeghuo

Carrie Bogdanovich further expresses her concerns about the upcoming challenges in hiring new employees. 

What Was the Response from School Districts?

In relation to the new increase in the wages for fast food workers, to not let this hike affect them and to remain competitive, there have been some districts that have proactively increased their wages for food service workers, like Sacramento Unified School District. 

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Some districts, to counter this new policy, have adjusted their hiring strategies by focusing on offering more attractive positions with higher skill requirements, such as in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District. 

Competition with the Fast Food Industry

The school districts are compelled to compete with the fast food chains for employees, with the worsening conditions of staffing shortages. 

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Cancy McArn, chief human resources officer at Sacramento Unified School District, agrees with the need to consider fast food chains as their competitors. “We are looking not only at competing with districts and comparing with districts, but we’re also looking at fast food places,” McArn said. 

Wage Limitations in Some Districts

Despite the increase in wages throughout the state, some districts are facing limitations due to their budget constraints, like the Lynwood Unified School District.

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Gretchen Janson, assistant superintendent of business services at Lynwood USD, talks about the hurdles they face in providing additional funding for their staff. He states, “We just don’t have the increase in revenue to be able to provide additional funding for staff.” 

What Are the Employee Perspectives?

The food service workers in schools are considering other options, as higher wages for fast food employees lure most of the workers in the fast food industry. 

Source: Unsplash/Obi – @pixel8propix

Nuria Alvarenga, a cafeteria worker at Lynwood School District, has worked there for 20 years. She now earns $21 per hour, but she said she could likely earn much more in fast food. She further said many of her co-workers were considering finding other jobs. 

Support for School Food Service Workers

Some support has been provided for food service workers in schools, as the recent state initiative aimed at expanding school meals and enhancing the school’s kitchen facilities. 

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There have been proposals by advocacy groups like the Chef Ann Foundation to incentivize workers to complete apprenticeship programs. Tia Orr, Executive Director of Services Employees International Union California, says the school districts and other service industries must consider raising their wages, “This is a good thing, and it is long overdue,” she said. 

What Are the Funding Challenges and Budget Deficits?

There has been an upsurge in demand for an increase in the wages for school food workers. However, lawmakers face challenges in mandating wage increases due to budget deficits. 

Source: Pexels/ Jakub Zerdzicki

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new budget proposal did not include provisions for wage increases for school food employees due to fiscal constraints. 

Are There Alternative Incentives for School Districts?

School districts are now seeking alternative incentives such as health insurance, paid vacation, and pension benefits in order to attract and retain their employees. 

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Eric Span, director of nutrition services at Sweetwater Union High School District, emphasized, “Restaurants are laying off employees. They’re cutting hours. I think we should position ourselves to really talk about some stability.” 

Advantages of Working in School Cafeterias

According to Michael Reich, a labor economics professor at the University of California-Berkeley, the advantages of working in school cafeterias include job security and stability. 

Source: Pexels/ Amina Filkins

He adds on the say, “But that’s not to say they don’t also want to get more money.” He further suggests that despite the wage disparities, school districts may offer attractive benefits that appeal to potential employees. 

Stability Amidst Industry Challenges

Amidst layoffs and reduced hours in the restaurant industry, school food service jobs offer more stability and predictability than fast food chains. 

Source: Unsplash/Aubrey Odom

Eric Span also underscores the value of stability as a key selling point for school cafeteria positions. 

Is There Potential for Community Engagement?

After the tension due to wages, to counter this issue, school districts have the opportunity to engage within the community and advocate for the importance of school food service jobs. 

Source: Freepik/yanalya

There is an increase in awareness of benefits and opportunities in school cafeterias, which may help mitigate staffing challenges. 

Collaboration and Innovation in Addressing Staffing Needs

It is essential to collaborate with school districts, advocacy groups, and policymakers in order to address staffing needs and develop innovative solutions. 

Source: Unsplash/Yuri Krupenin

Tia Orr emphasized the importance of raising wages to support workers in school food services and fast food industries.

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Sally Reed

Written by Sally Reed

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