“I sort of accidentally landed in the cafeteria,” says Grace Menjivar, a Food Service Worker with the Los Angeles Unified School District. “I took the job because the work hours allowed me to take my kids to school and be there to greet them when they got home and get them started on their homework.”
But even though it was an accident, now she wouldn’t do anything else. The food industry fits her personality. She’s a people person. She loves to be of service. She loves the fast-paced work environment. She likes to make the customers happy. She likes being part of a team that has to work together to complete the job—in this case, lunch!
“I really like to see the kids when they come around to my lunch cart on campus—they seem happy,” says Grace. “They get to know me. I get to know them. I let them know about lunch. ‘I made some really good tuna today, you guys’ and they’ll say ‘that sounds really good!’”
Grace has worked for the District for eight years. And while she loves the work, she doesn’t like the bullying.
Grace had to watch a co-worker get yelled at one time. This co-worker had checked her production sheet and saw that it said 200 sandwiches. She got to work and made the 200 sandwiches. Evidently, after she’d checked her instructions, the manager changed the quantity without telling her. So she yelled at her—in front of her co-workers. “It actually makes me feel physically sick when I see my more timid co-workers getting treated so badly.
The other day I was chatting with one of the youngest girls in our kitchen. I sort of feel like a mom to her. She was finished with her task and started helping me. We were chit-chatting while we worked, talking about what she was going to get her little girl for Christmas. The manager came out of her office and said ‘No talking!’ I explained that we were working. We were getting our job done. She said it was okay to talk as long as we were only talking about work, nothing personal.
To make ends meet for her family, Grace also works at a local Philly Cheesesteak restaurant. She says the atmosphere there is very respectful. It’s like night and day.
But it shouldn’t be. Schools across the country have been leading the way to end bullying. Grace’s school job should be setting the example, not her Philly Cheesesteak job. Adults should be modeling what we tell students. Everyone on campus—whether a student or a staff member—must feel safe and respected.
Grace is working with her union to try and bring this kind of collaborative and pleasant atmosphere—the kind she has at her other job—to her school kitchen. She wants her school kitchen to be a place where you can have a smile on your face, where people actually feel like they can talk to each other in the break room. A place where a child could overhear conversations and instructions and learn what a good workplace looks like.