Dori: Seattle school cafeteria workers’ union strong-arming youth pastors

May 20, 2016, 7:20 AM | Updated: 9:01 am
A Seattle school union ordered a local church to stop giving away free pizza because it threatened ...
A Seattle school union ordered a local church to stop giving away free pizza because it threatened cafeteria jobs. (Tutta Bella, Facebook)
(Tutta Bella, Facebook)

When KIRO Radio’s Dori Monson heard that a youth pastor was receiving intimidating calls from a Seattle union, he naturally wanted to dig deeper into the story. But there may be some in town who would rather not chat about the issue.

“These people don’t know me very well,” Dori said. “You come on (my show), you talk to me about a story, we have it out and we move on. When you don’t come on, that means you have something to hide and that makes me more pit-bullish. And I don’t let stories go like this.”

Related: Are Northshore teachers already planning to strike next year?

Bethany Community Church in Green Lake hands out free slices of pizza to any student who drops by during lunch. The church is located near the campuses of Nathan Hale, Roosevelt, and Ingraham high schools. The church initially checked with school district officials who said it was OK with the free pizza. The church spends about $600 a week on the effort.

“They’re not proselytizing,” Dori said. “I know youth pastors at a bunch of churches and they know the way you win hearts and minds and souls of kids are not to proselytize but to be present and be there for them.”

But the good-neighbor effort has run afoul of the local union that represents high school cafeteria workers. Dave Westberg who represents that union made a call to Youth Pastor Nick Steinloski and told him to stop the handouts.

Westberg’s message accused the church of proselytizing to youth through the pizza, according to KOMO. Steinloski said he felt intimidated by the message that, he says, also suggested that if the church didn’t have pizza to hand out, it would just give kids drugs.

“The story here is that the union that represents the cafeteria workers in Seattle Public Schools is using strong-arm tactics, threatening a picket of a church that gives away free pizza to kids at lunch time,” Dori said.

“A bunch of these kids — it’s either go get a slice of pizza or go to Subway or run home for lunch,” he added. “They don’t necessarily buy food in the cafeteria if they don’t get free pizza.”

The church has now altered its routine and is giving away its free pizza after school instead of during lunch.

Westberg told reporters that he hopes the church keeps its after-school promise. He argues that cafeteria workers’ jobs are based on the number of meals sold at the school and that the pizza is taking away 500 meals each week — equal to 20 labor hours.

The argument seems to be in line with another food fight the union waged in 2005. The Seattle PI reported in 2005 that the union took offense to vans selling pizzas and other treats near school campuses. The city council eventually responded by mandating a 1,000-foot buffer between all schools and food carts.

Now students are forced to get fast food and convenience stores food near campus.

“The school cafeteria workers union strong-armed all the food trucks to keep them away from schools because they are afraid it might cost them a job,” Dori said. “Now we find out they are trying to strong arm a youth pastor who gives away free pizza.”

Union response

Westberg did not return requests for comment. Another union representative agreed to be interviewed on Wednesday, but stood Dori up. Show producer Nicole followed up the next day.

“He said, ‘No, my schedule does not revolve around you,’” Nicole recalled. “And I said, ‘You kind of agreed to come on at 2:05 yesterday. And he said ‘Well, I make a lot of commitments and yours is not one of my top ones.’”

“And then he called you [Dori] a couple names,” she said. “He was very rude to me … he just had an ugly tone.”

The man called Dori a “right-wing hack,” according to Nicole.

Nicole also called Seattle Public Schools to get a comment from them. A spokesperson said that because the controversy is happening off school grounds, they don’t have any say in it.

“She agreed that it was not great language to use,” Nicole said. “And it would have been a non-issue if they would have just have been polite about it.”

“Seattle Public Schools is claiming that this isn’t their issue because it is happening off school grounds,” Dori responded. “That is absolute nonsense because the union is using your kids, your buildings as the tool to try and intimidate youth pastors and food truck owners. And if Seattle Schools are going to condone these kinds of tactics that operate in your cafeterias, then yes, the school district has a lot to answer for here.”

Dori Monson on KIRO Newsradio 97.3 FM
  • listen to dori monsonTune in to KIRO Newsradio weekdays at 12 noon for The Dori Monson Show.

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Dori: Seattle school cafeteria workers’ union strong-arming youth pastors