Saturday, September 03, 2005

Inside NEA's Washington Headquarters: Non-Union Labor?

Mike Antonucci's Intercepts alerted me to this fascinating story over at The Education Gadfly. The piece is all about the nice restaurant that is located inside the spacious Washington headquarters of the National Education Association. The name of this little dues-payer-subsidized eatery is "The NEA Café," and Gadfly reviewed its cuisine and ambiance: (emphasis added)

Yes, the NEA Café is open to all, though whether to bulk up the revenue stream or to comply with some heretofore unknown government regulation barring exclusive restaurants isn't known. Union members receive a discount, but anyone can stroll into the hulking headquarters building at 16th and M for breakfast or lunch (Monday through Thursday only during summer months). Prices are reasonable for downtown D.C.

The ambiance in the spacious, well-lit atrium at the center of the building is clean and bright, the tables are well-spaced, the chairs are comfortable enough, and the ficus trees sport cute little light bulbs. A large mobile with an education theme complements the environment; unfortunately, it shares space with a massive "TEAM NEA" poster that looms over the atrium and is less conducive to good eating. So are atrium-facing office windows dotted with anti-Arnold and other political placards.

The restaurant is, at heart, a cafeteria catering to diverse tastes, with the virtues and vices of that genre. On the one hand, there are lots of choices. (If the NEA ran its restaurant by its education policy precepts, everyone would be served the same food—and told where to sit.) On the other hand, much of what's on offer is mediocre.

Policy wonks take note: NEA Café's operation is outsourced to a private, for-profit vendor, Seasons Culinary Services—precisely what the union abhors in public education. This firm's philosophy is worth sharing, both because it's a fine one for a food service outfit and because it reads like the gustatory equivalent of a charter school. You can find the whole thing on the company's website. Here's part of it:

"Seasons Culinary Services, Inc. was formed as a reaction to the ever growing demand for increased personal attention and culinary flare in the food service industry.... Our culinary trends, customer driven programs and innovative ideas can be enacted more immediately because there are no large corporate barriers. While large food service companies have many programs and resources to offer, we feel that Seasons will continue to earn its reputation on our personal commitment to service and quality.

Our focus is our customer and our company goals are regional, not national or global....We aim to rid our accounts of the old stereotypes of corporate cafeterias and food lines by implementing creative menus, home made food, colorful presentation, and healthy alternatives in a simple and clean atmosphere."

Isn't it nice to see that the dues we are paying aren't being wasted?

Those folks at NEA's Washington headquarters work so hard at their sinecures jobs; they deserve a nice place to pass their lunch hours and coffee breaks during those occasions when they aren't attending conventions, conferences, and workshops at posh hotels around the country.

Somehow, it's actually comforting to know that at least somebody is getting something for all those dollars that are forcebly withheld from our paychecks (Even though I've had no payraise of any kind for nearly four years, union dues just keep going up and up just like everything else.) each and every month.

With food
like this, I wish that the National Education Association would get those folks from Seasons Culinary to come-on over to our junior high school and organize our food services along those same lofty lines. And I know that our staff would appreciate having "well-spaced tables" and a "spacious well-lit atrium" in which to dine gulp down our food during the school's raucous thirty-minute lunch-break.

Heh. Maybe Reg Weaver, the unelected-by-the-rank-and-file "president" of the NEA, will get right on that tomorrow. But we won't get our hopes up. We are still waiting for Weaver to sponsor tolerate the development of a comments-enabled blog like the widely-read and respected Edwize, (see our sidebar) which is sponsored by the much more progressive and open-to-dialogue New York City affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

But then again, the NEA has never tolerated, much less promoted, the free exchange of thoughts and ideas among its diverse membership. It's brand of trade-unionism is very much the "Boss-dominated" pay and obey model that more properly belongs to the middle of the last century.

(Ed's note to NEA operatives: You people could learn a lot from a thorough study of this man on the successful building of a strong, diverse, and inclusive union that has real political clout. Adored by the rank-and-file from which he came, he was respected by allies, adversaries, and U.S. Presidents.)

As for Seasons Culinary Services, I visited their
website and left a politely-worded note which asked if the workforce of the NEA Café is unionized or not. Reckon that I'll get an answer to my inquiry? You can ask your own question of those folks right here.

I strongly suspect that Seasons' workforce consists of non-union labor, as food-service companies usually depend on keeping labor costs down in order to win corporate contracts and still make an acceptable profit for the Company's share-holders.

View the latest edition of The Carnival Of Education as well as entry instructions for next week's edition right here.

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