Jefferson Unified members improve working conditions via negotiations

Jefferson Union High School District Teamsters from left to right: Teresita Rex, Rita Peppers, and Zoyla Acuna

Walk into any school in Jefferson Union High School District (JUHSD) — a small school district in northern San Mateo County — and you will find Local 856 members there with a lot of heart and passion for what they do.

Teamsters 856 members in the district work as cafeteria managers and cafeteria helpers. Among their many responsibilities are planning the menu and preparing food for the students from scratch. And they take pride in their work because they know how vital it is for a lot of the kids. “Sometimes this is the only meal students eat in a day,” explained Rita Peppers, a cafeteria manager and Local 856 shop steward.

While Rita and her co-workers always put the health and nutrition of their students first, they have also been fighting for fair pay and benefits for each other for years — a fight they won at the negotiations table a few months ago.

“We secured a contract that increases the hours of cafeteria helpers, who will be renamed ‘workers’ in July, from three to four hours a day to six or seven-hour shifts,” said Local 856 staff attorney representative, Malia Vella. Malia led contract negotiations with JUHSD this year. “This means cafeteria helpers will become full-time benefited positions that qualify for health care and pension contributions.”

This is a huge win for cafeteria helpers like Teresita Rex. “Look at this area, it’s so expensive. I will now have extra money for my expenses,” she said.

Teresita explained that while the increases in pay and additional benefits will be life-changing for herself and her co-workers, they were also a work necessity. “We needed more time to prepare the food for the kids, but we only had three hours each day.”

Zoyla Acuna has been a cafeteria helper for 18 years and she echoed Teresita’s concerns about hours. “Our priority is giving students quality food and serving them well so they have something nice and decent to eat each day. This will help.”

Rita says this win was big for their unit because rather than hiring from outside, they got the district to increase hours for existing Local 856 members. “This came from us speaking up and voicing our opinion,” she said. “We wanted them to give the employees they already have more time rather than hiring more part-time workers.”

The new agreement not only gives existing members the option to either go full-time or share shifts if they want to remain part-time, it also adds additional full-time positions to deal with understaffing, so no one will be displaced from their job. This will allow Local 856 members to better serve their students and provide solid jobs on the Peninsula.

“It’s good to have a union at work because they can help us,” Teresita explained. “We have a voice and we can get our rights.”