First, it was food trucks and other street vendors. Then, it was a local youth pastor. Now, it’s Artez Ford, the owner of a concession stand called Garfield Eats who says he’s the latest in a series of businesses bullied into ceasing operations by the labor union representing Seattle Public School cafeteria workers.
Ford sat down with KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson to discuss the situation.
“They were concerned that we were competing with the cafeteria at the Garfield High School against the union’s wishes,” Ford said.
Garfield Eats operated on Seattle Parks and Recreation property next door to Garfield High School. The stand sold salads, hot dogs, cheeseburgers, yogurt, and other items to students during their lunch hour.
“It was a lot of hard work,” Ford said. “We decided to do it, me and my wife together.”
Then in May, after complaints from the cafeteria workers’ union, Ford was told to stop operating between the hours of 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. so as not to compete with the school’s cafeteria.
David Westberg, the business manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 609, has argued in the past that concession stands operating near high school campuses take money away from school cafeterias and steal jobs from cafeteria workers.
“He swore that he was going to close us down, that he was going to use people from Parks, that he was going to use the Mayor’s office, and that he was going to use the City,” Ford said.
However, Ford claimed that he was only serving about 45 kids per day, kids who probably wouldn’t have eaten school lunches anyway. Garfield High School students have the opportunity to eat lunch off campus at nearby fast food restaurants like Ezell’s or AmPm.
“We knew that there were 1,500 children in the cafeteria. They have 827 chairs. We were serving the 500-odd student overflow.”
Despite Ford’s efforts to renegotiate his contract after the issue in May, he said the Parks Department didn’t seem interested in negotiations. It’s likely that Garfield Eats is closed down for good.
Ford said the opportunity to be a role model to students in the community is something he will miss.
“We spent an awful lot of money and time,” he said. “We put our heart in it.”