FLOYD COUNTY, Ky. (WTVQ/Press Release) – A bargaining agreement between Floyd county schools and approximately 100 classified transportation employees in the district is set for a vote Monday night by the county’s five-person board of education.
Employees — members of the Floyd County Education Support Professionals Association (FCESPA), an affiliate of the Kentucky Education Association (KEA) — bargained for an extended work week, specific seniority rights and incentive pay for meeting specific attendance, safety and administrative criteria.
The push for a newly-bargained agreement started when bus drivers got fed up last December with a requirement that only bus drivers and cooks had to report to school (for four hours), when there was no in-person instruction that day.
There were 47 grievances filed in December alone. That’s when classified school cafeteria workers took notice.
“We’ve been pretty strong here since the late 1990s, but it was just bus drivers, not cooks.” said Keith Frazier, FCESPA president and a bus driver for Floyd county schools. “Now that’s changed.”
In March, cooks got involved. Reports are that more than half of the cafeteria workers have already signed up with KEA to form a bargaining unit, a process that is ongoing.
Cafeteria workers are now taking action.
“KEA was already working with bus drivers. It gave us an opportunity to meet with KEA and voice our concerns. There’s no other union down here trying to help us,” said Anna Gullett, a new KEA member and cook at Prestonsburg High School.
“Who do you turn to?” asked Sherry Crase, lunchroom manager at Prestonsburg High School. “Bus drivers are getting help through KEA. Why not jump in and see what we can get? I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time.”
Cafeteria workers are hoping to be recognized as a bargaining unit soon, alongside the bus drivers in FCESPA, and negotiate for more money on the hour to earn a livable wage.
Now, some cooks need to work three jobs just to keep a roof over their heads, the utilities on, and food on the table.
Transportation and cafeteria workers said it comes down to respect for the work they do and the sacrifices they make to serve the students.
“Bus drivers and cooks were the only employees who were deemed essential through this whole pandemic,” said Hughes. “We rode with the bus drivers and delivered meals to homes. Some places we went would break your heart. I knew that it was the only food they were going to get that day. Through rain and snow. Weather didn’t matter. We were essential. Everything they asked us to do, we did it.”
Bus drivers don’t just drive the buses, and cooks don’t just cook the meals. They are an essential part of the support system for students, according to Gullett.
“Like I explained to the superintendent, we don’t only cook, the kids build a bond with us. They see their bus driver first. Then they come in and we’re here with their breakfast. They begin to learn to trust us. We get to hear what is going on in their day. Whether someone made them mad or they passed their test, or somethings going on at home,” Gullett stated. “We hear everything. And that’s okay. And they know it’s okay. And if they have a problem, they can come to us. They trust us. We have built that bond. They call us their school mommies.”
State Representative Ashley Tackett Laferty spoke to a group of cooks at a meeting in early May and encouraged them to join together with KEA. “You all need to organize. I’m glad to see this happening. I don’t think people realize how much KEA works for people.”