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City limits concession hours, after complaint from labor union

A business operating on Seattle Parks and Recreation property was told to stop serving food during school lunch hours, to avoid conflict with the union representing school cafeteria workers, who serve lunch at Garfield High School next door.

Artez Ford, who owns Garfield Eats, said he has lost 70 percent of his business since October, when he was forced to sign an amendment to his Parks and Recreation contract promising not to sell food between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m.

RELATED: School lunch labor union pressures church to stop food service

“I signed it under distress because we had spent an awful lot of money. We had invested – our whole family – cousins, sisters, brothers,” he said.

This happened just days after Ford said a union representative came to his stand. The man told Ford he was representing cafeteria works at the school district.

“He told me that there are real American families up at the cafeteria that’s trying to make a living,” Ford said.

KIRO 7 reached out to that union, Local 609B. KIRO 7 did not receive a response to our request for an on-camera interview, but a representative named David Westberg responded to initial questions over email.

Westberg said that Garfield Eats was selling junk food, tobacco and beer. When KIRO 7 asked for evidence of this, Westberg did not reply.

Ford said he has never sold tobacco or alcohol. Students told KIRO 7 they had not seen those products for sale either. Tobacco and alcohol are prohibited in Seattle parks.

As for the claim of junk food, Ford said, “We’re totally disappointed. We really thought we were providing nutritious meals.” He said he sold four kinds of salads, cheeseburgers and hot dogs, among other things.

Students told KIRO 7 they preferred Garfield Eats, because of the low cost and vegetarian options. They now go to Ezell’s for fried chicken, or to AmPm, a gas station convenience store.

KIRO 7 asked the Department of Parks and Recreation for an explanation of the circumstances.

While representatives declined a request for an interview, they said in an email that “we have had a vendor there in years past, and we have always tried to be good neighbors with the school district and have asked previous vendors to not sell during school lunch hours.”

In an email sent to Artez Ford directly, a Parks and Recreation employee named Antoinette Daniel wrote about Ford selling during lunch hours, “This is in direct conflict with the Garfield High School cafeteria staff’s efforts to serve lunch and their union.”

KIRO 7 looked through the contract between Local 609B and Seattle Public Schools. There was no language referencing activity off of school property.

While a Seattle Public Schools spokesperson did not want to confirm this, he did write in an email that “SPS wouldn’t tell a vendor to stop selling food off school grounds.”

KIRO 7 obtained data from Seattle Public Schools, showing that the number of meals served per lunch hour at all high schools is below the target goal.

A third-party study of SPS nutritional services, sent to KIRO 7 by Local 609B, shows that only 18.9 percent of high school students participated in school lunch from 2015-16. It also said that 38.2 percent of high school students in the district qualify for free or reduced lunch.

“I used to come down here [to Garfield Eats] for lunch, like, all the time, because it was so much cheaper,” said freshman Makayla Clegg.

Ford said that his family struggled financially over the past season and cut back on spending, especially during the holidays

“I haven’t been to the movies. We had no Thanksgiving, no Christmas. (on) Dec. 16, I decided, ‘I’m going to buy my daughter a Christmas tree.’ And I opened this store in violation,” he said.

Ford said someone from the Department of Parks and Recreation came that day to stop him.

Ford is now trying to obtain a new contract with the department for the next season. He said that the stipulation of not selling during school lunch hours — summer excluded — is still present in the contract. He does not want to sign the contract under those circumstances and is hoping to negotiate with the city.

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