Philadelphia House and Senate Delegations join Unite Here Local 634 in fight for a dignifying contract

State reps, senators and the president of the union discuss key factors in the conflict

PHILADELPHIA, Sep. 21 – In light of recent demands presented by city school workers to the Philadelphia School District, members of the Philadelphia House and Senate Delegations today expressed their steadfast support for members of Unite Here Local 634.

The delegation members, who participated in a rally held earlier today by the school workers, stated that they are fighting along with the union for a dignifying contract that could guarantee livable wages for workers before their current collective bargaining agreement expires on Sept. 30.

“Workers are clamoring for the elementary right to get a fair salary to pay for rent and buy food for their families,” said delegation chairwoman Morgan Cephas.

“They are requesting respect. These are employees pleading for provisions that are plain-to-see needs and commonsense demands. Their voices can longer be ignored. The countdown starts for fair pay and transparent terms in a new bargaining agreement,” added Cephas.

State Sen. Nikil Saval, chair of the PA Senate’s Philadelphia Delegation, explained that the food service and student climate staff throughout schools provide vital care for Philadelphia children from the moment they walk through the doors.

“These workers are the lowest paid in the school district; they are paid so little that the district is currently in violation of the city wage ordinance,” he said.

“This devaluation of essential labor is disgraceful. The workers’ contract expires Sept. 30. The district must provide them with the wages, materials and training they need to provide the highest level of care for Philly kids while also caring for their own families.”

The union represents about 1,900 school employees.

Members of Unite Here Local 634 work in crucial positions for the Philadelphia School District, including food services and maintaining order in common areas of the schools such as playgrounds and hallways.

“We are the ones that make sure kids are safe and fed in the district. We're among the lowest-paid public employees, with some making just $15.50 an hour, and it's time for change” explained Local 634 President Nicole Hunt.

“Our majority of Black, female members, who live in this city with their own children and grandchildren attending public schools, have been overlooked for far too long,” Hunt emphasized.

Hunt also pointed out that another major issue impacting their jobs is the massive workload increase. They are doubling their capacity to help cover another elephant in the room: understaffed schools.

“We've proposed reasonable solutions to fill vacancies and improve school safety, like higher pay, better benefits and working walkie talkies,” Hunt said. “The School District has made some movement but it’s still not enough. We call upon the superintendent and the Board of Education to negotiate fairly. Local 634 members are the heart of Philadelphia schools, and it's time they receive the same care they provide to our students every day and need to take care of their households too!”

State Rep. Jason Dawkins, majority chairman of the PA House Labor and Industry Committee, advocated for allowing the workers to sit down at the table and negotiate the terms of a new contract.

“Unions are the backbone of our workforce – they give our hard-working neighbors a voice! Our food service workers and student climate staff deserve a living wage and a say in their future and the conditions under which they work. It’s time their voices are heard,” Dawkins said. 

State Sen. Christine M. Tartaglione, minority chair of the Senate’s Intergovernmental Operations Committee and Democratic Whip who has been championing workers’ rights across the state, is also leading efforts in solidarity with the union.

“We are at a turning point for organized labor in our nation, and we must stand united. The members of Local 634 are a part of what makes the Philadelphia School District so great,” Tartaglione said. 

“Organized labor’s strength lies in unity, and the voices of Local 634 are being heard loud and clear. Their calls for fair wages and fair treatment must be met,” she said.