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Union demands action over school district's 'unsafe' kitchen

SEATTLE -- The union that represents about two dozen Seattle Public Schools employees claims its members are fed up with "unsafe" working conditions in the central kitchen at district headquarters, a spokesman said.


A union spokesman said the district is ignoring its members' concerns and putting them at risk.


"All we want is a safe work environment for our members," said Mike McBee, Recording Secretary for International Union of Operating Engineers Local 609.


The district's central kitchen is where the bulk of the food is prepared for the district then distributed to schools, a spokeswoman said.


McBee said the food is safe, but the employees who prepare it feel they are putting themselves at risk due to their working conditions.


"There's no safety training at all. There's no safety training on equipment and hazards at all," McBee said. "It's a big, big problem."


The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries fined the district more than $32,000 in early July for a series of safety violations, according to a notice of assessment. Most of the violations were considered 'serious.' The violations focused on problems with employee safety training and access to certain safety equipment.


It's the third time the district has been fined since 2011, McBee said.


"Part of the problem has been our people bending over backwards in order to get meals out to the students and they're expected to cut corners on safety," McBee said.


A district spokeswoman said most of the issues raised by union members have been resolved.


"Workplace safety continues to be a priority for the district," said district spokeswoman Stacy Howard. "As employees or other agencies raise issues, they are assessed and remedies identified."


"The district has had several meetings with Labor and Industry, and our labor partners related to central kitchen safety and has addressed the concerns as soon as possible, and within the timelines identified by the Labor and Industry notice of assessment inspection documents," she added.


McBee said the district has not responded to the union's concerns in a timely fashion and is pursuing a contractual grievance to try to force the district to act.


"If they don't address these problems, somebody's gonna get very seriously injured," McBee said.


A spokesman for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries said the district has until the end of July to file an appeal.

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