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ABSS increases starting pay for cafeteria workers to $14 an hour

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Alamance-Burlington school board members voted unanimously, 7-0, Wednesday to increase the starting pay for cafeteria workers to $14 an hour, from the current starting pay rate of $11.86 per hour.

ABSS officials say the raise will make it easier to compete against private-sector employers that they say are already offering higher hourly pay – and in some cases, signing bonuses just to get people to come to work.

Major U.S. fast food chains are so desperate to fill vacant positions that they’re offering signing bonuses, ABSS finance director Jeremy Teetor acknowledged during a discussion with school board members Wednesday afternoon.

Employers in foodservice and numerous other industries face dual challenges as North Carolina and other states emerge from their Covid-19 lockdowns. In the restaurant industry, a surge in online ordering through GrubHub and other smart phone apps in 2020 helped to sustain many restaurateurs after they were forced to close dining areas to the public, or operate at reduced seating capacity to meet social distancing requirements.

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Now, with most states lifting their Covid-19 restrictions and summer travel heating up, consumer interest in dining out (and most other forms of entertainment) is quickly returning to pre-pandemic levels. But the steady flow of federal “economic impact payments” (stimulus checks) and unemployment benefits has made it more lucrative for people in traditionally low-paying jobs to stay home, according to some critics and economists.

One McDonald’s franchisee in Fayetteville is reportedly offering new hires a $500 signing bonus, Business Insider reported two weeks ago. Some Subway franchisees are offering a $2 an hour bonus (on top of the standard hourly rate, which varies by location, as most are independently-owned), plus a $300 signing bonus, according to the report. Chipotle is offering $15 an hour and a $200 signing bonus for entry-level positions; management slots offer a $750 signing bonus, according to the May 21 Insider report.

Teetor told The Alamance News Wednesday afternoon that Chili’s Grill & Bar is offering signing bonuses to new hires.

Pam Bailey, Child Nutrition director for ABSS, is worried that she won’t have enough foodservice assistants to staff school cafeterias this summer or for the upcoming school year, Teetor told school board members Wednesday afternoon. The Child Nutrition division currently has 54 vacant positions, the finance director said.

Meanwhile, legislation that the General Assembly passed earlier this spring, which Gov. Roy Cooper signed on April 9, requires N.C. public school systems to provide at least 30 days or 150 hours of in-person instruction this summer. Though the summer school program is open to all students, it’s targeted to students deemed at-risk for failing a grade this year, according to the legislation.

Teetor and other ABSS administrators recommended – and school board members approved Wednesday – a bump in the hourly rate for each of the “pay steps,” which he said represents about half of 1 percent for all foodservice assistants.

The finance director estimated it will cost $700,000 to increase pay rates for foodservice workers, which he said would be fully funded from the $4.8 million in cash on hand within the Child Nutrition division. (N.C. public school accounting rules prohibit those funds for being used for other expenses in other departments.) The Child Nutrition division stockpiled approximately $500,000 (or 10 percent) of the overall total of $4.8 million from vacancies that have gone unfilled, Teetor said.

Hourly pay rates for all ABSS foodservice assistants will increase across the board, by about $2 per hour on average, from their existing levels. The hourly pay for entry-level foodservice workers will increase by $2.14 per hour, from the current rate of $11.86 per hour to $14 per hour, based on the changes that school board members unanimously approved Wednesday.
Pay rates for foodservice assistants employed for 35 years or longer – those at the top end of the pay steps – will increase by $1.66 per hour, from $15.01 per hour to the newly-approved rate of $16.67 per hour.

School board members also approved a recommendation to offer a $200 monthly supplement for child nutrition managers who oversee multiple cafeterias (such as the one at the Garrett Elementary/Hawfields Middle School complex in Mebane). The estimated total cost for the$200 monthly supplement for managers who oversee two or more cafeterias is $100,000, which also will be paid from existing funding within the Child Nutrition division, Teetor said Wednesday.

“That range will look different by the time somebody gets to that point in their career,” Teetor conceded, adding that the $14-an-hour entry-level pay rate will make it easier to compete with larger school systems, as well as private companies. “Seeing what some private places are paying – we’ve got some that are advertising $13 [per hour] to come be a cook.”

The new pay rates will take effect with the June paycheck, Teetor told school board members on Wednesday.

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