School cafeteria workers hold off on boycott as investigation continues

Elder James Johnson and food service employees protest in front of the school district office on June 6. Johnson called for a boycott of car dealerships after 30 days if the district did not address complaints of discrimination in the Nutrition Services Department. He now says the group is holding off on the boycott as it awaits the results of an investigation into the matter.

Charleston County school cafeteria workers and activists are holding off on a boycott of local car dealerships pending the results of an investigation regarding alleged discrimination in the schools’ food service department.

Among other issues, current and former cafeteria workers have alleged that leaders in the Nutrition Services Department were using racial slurs, unfairly giving leadership positions to white males and failing to pay for overtime hours in short-staffed school kitchens.

Workers have handed the district more than 30 written complaints, and some picketed in front of the district’s central office on June 6. National Action Network State Coordinator Elder James Johnson announced that his organization would help organize a countywide boycott of car dealerships if certain demands were not met within 30 days, including an immediate stop to “racism and discrimination along with the wage theft” in the Nutrition Services Department.

The 30-day period ran out Wednesday. While the boycott has been postponed for now, Johnson and some of the workers will hold another demonstration in front of the district office Thursday at 10 a.m.

Johnson said this week that he had recently met with Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait for an update on an internal investigation of the Nutrition Services Department that was launched in early June. The district has promised to not retaliate against employees who come forward with accurate information and to use “one or more third-party reviewers to ensure and maintain the integrity of the investigation.”

“We’re giving Dr. Postlewait a chance to finish those outside investigations,” Johnson said this week. “We don’t want to boycott until we see exactly what those outside agencies are going to do.”

School district spokeswoman Erica Taylor said Tuesday that the internal investigation is ongoing.

“Charleston County School District takes these allegations very seriously and has conducted surveys among managers and other staff, continues to review past audits and reports, has provided the opportunity for staff to share experiences both positive and negative absent of retribution, and is maintaining open and honest dialogue with the National Action Network,” Taylor said.

During earlier protests, some cafeteria workers called for the removal of Nutrition Services Executive Director Walter Campbell. Taylor said Tuesday that Campbell remains in his position and has not been placed on leave.

Reach Paul Bowers at 843-937-5546 or twitter.com/paul_bowers.