I’ve worked several 9-to-5 jobs in my time, among them: janitor (dress factory); assembly line worker (textile factory, shoe factory); and book cataloguer (university library). In all of these jobs, I and my fellow workers had a 15-minute paid break in the morning and afternoon. The breaks relieved stress, helped us re-charge for the tasks ahead, and built a sense of community (despite the occasional pilfered lunch from the breakroom refrigerator). Many business management and medical studies point to the positive effect of regular breaks on work quality, productivity, health and safety, morale, and institutional loyalty.
The MCCSC administration took away what they call “organized” rest breaks from full-time service staff a couple of years ago. Instead, staffers have had to approach their supervisor individually on each occasion to ask for break time, telling the reason why. This procedure is demeaning and needlessly adversarial. Perhaps there is also a bit of social-class bias at work, as was also the case perhaps in the controversial “food-shaming” policy. It’s as if the adult men and women who make sure our schoolchildren have a hot meal and a clean, comfortable, well-lighted environment to learn in are themselves first-graders, having to hold up their hands to ask permission to go to the bathroom.
After the Auxilio outsourcing fiasco, the MCCSC administration raised wages and vigorously advertised for local bus drivers. It worked; the need was filled. Why should anyone be surprised that treating employees well usually works better than any of the alternatives?
This is not just a human resources matter; it’s an ethical and civic matter about the kind of community we are committed to building and maintaining inside and outside the walls of our schools.
I’ve heard from employees that MCCSC’s break policy continues to undercut staff morale, fuel unnecessary turnover, and dissuade good candidates from applying for service jobs. As a policy, it’s repugnant in and of itself, but also as a symbol of an unattractive workplace.
MCCSC administration should voluntarily re-establish “organized” rest breaks and drop its resistance to guaranteeing them in future contract negotiations with the AFSCME local. I would also like to see school board members and candidates say something—more than lip service—about how respecting, rewarding, and retaining service employees fits in with their vision for our schools and with the credentials of any future superintendent they would hire.