News, commentary and analysis by leaders of the Communist Party USA in New York State. We discuss State politics and issues in New York City, covering developments in labor, civil rights education, housing and more.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Can't Stand the Heat in the Kitchen

You might not have fond memories of school lunches. I ate, but rarely cherished, lunches in school and during the summer at a Department of Recreation camp. As a kid I never thought about where the lunches came from or who cooked them. As I grew older and worked in several kitchens, I started to pay attention to the workers behind the meals.

The summer school free breakfast and lunch program is helping to turn out millions of essential meals for New York’s children. It is also cooking some of the workers who help to provide the meals.

Many of the New York City school kitchens do not have proper cooling systems and temperatures in the summer can soar to over 100 degrees. Many kitchens need upgraded air conditioning systems, some need more efficient stoves, others need new ventilation and exhaust systems. The Gotham Gazette reported in January 2006 that
“about 25 percent of school kitchens do not have a required hood system, which sucks hot air and grease into a vent and will drop a foam substance in the event of a fire.”
Without these safety systems in place, the schools must use convection ovens, which blow hot air to warm food, and make kitchens even more uncomfortable.

There is currently no federal or state legislation to protect kitchen workers from excessive heat in their workplaces. The New York State legislature has voted to pass such legislation for the last four years, each time vetoed by then governor Pataki. This year New York State Assembly Bill A02514A is waiting to be signed by current governor Elliott Spitzer. The governor has not stated whether he will sign the current legislation.

The bill is being opposed by Mayor Bloomberg claiming that it is “too expensive” to convert the cooling systems to regulate the temperatures in all school kitchens.

The bill’s author Assemblywoman Susan John's spokesman, Allan Richards was quoted in The Chief-Civil Service Leader newspaper saying,
"The cost is borne by the New York State Board of Education. The Legislature has appropriated $1.8 billion for school construction, so it's no longer a non-funded mandate."
Tony Ferina, a shop steward for Local 372 of District Council 37 AFSCME, which represents the kitchen workers, told the Chief,
"Whether or not you get in a school where there's air-conditioning is like hitting the lottery. A lot of the members are in their 50s. I think it's abuse."
It is ridiculous to make anyone work in excessive heat. Working in kitchens without proper ventilation should be criminal. People should not have to worry about passing out or vomiting from heat while on the job.

I have worked as a short order cook and with only one stove and one fryer it was always hot, even with a large exhaust fan. Without the exhaust fan I cannot imagine how unbearable it would have been.

Let’s hope Spitzer has more sense than his predecessor and signs this sensible bill into law.

No comments: