SEATTLE – A school cafeteria workers union is threatening a Seattle church over free pizza that parishioners are distributing to students at three local high schools during lunch time.
Once a week for several months, youth pastor Nick Steinloski and other volunteers with Bethany Community Church in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood have delivered pizzas to students during lunch time just off campus at three high schools – Nathan Hale, Ingraham, and Rooselvelt, KOMO reports.
Church leaders received permission for the giveaway, which is possible in part because of the school have an open campus, and estimate they spend about $600 a week serving two slices each to about 250 students, Steinloski said.
“It takes about 10 minutes to get rid of 40 large pizzas,” he said. “We are not telling them a Bible story before they get pizza.”
Regardless, International Union of Operating Engineers business manager Dave Westberg contends the pizza giveaway is hurting food sales in the school cafeterias, and blasted the church in a flyer for allegedly stealing money from the school’s unionized workers.
“Although ‘Pastor Nick’ has been reluctant to truthfully share the factual scope of this effort, the latest information is that they are serving @ 750 students a week Domino’s (high fat, empty calorie) pizza from boxes out of the trunk of a car near Ingraham, Hale and Roosevelt schools,” the union flyer read.
“These efforts inevitably lead to the working families whose jobs depend on preparing and serving Seattle’s students inside public schools being negatively impacted. That means a number of families will potentially lose health benefits and (ultimately) the basic income that supports them.”
The union letter also mocks the chuck with the question “What God hurts innocent people?” in all-caps, bold letters across both the top and the bottom of the flyer.
Steinloski told KOMO the union also called and left a message on the church’s answering machine.
“Last week we got a call from a union,” he said. “They said we were taking away a job, hours from employees at school in the kitchens because kids weren’t buying lunch.”
The union representative who left the message accused the church of luring students in with the pizza to force feed them religion.
“He said that if we stop serving them pizza, we would start serving them drugs,” Steinloski said. “I felt intimidated by that message.”
Westberg told KOMO the pizza giveaway equates to about 500 purchased meals per week, or 20 labor hours, but many of the students who spoke with the news site said they would go home or to another off-campus food vendor, if the free pizza goes away.
“That’s why it really doesn’t make sense,” Nathan Hale student Malik Johnson said. “Because if we can go down the street and get food from a restaurant, why can’t we come out here and get free pizza that people want to give us?”
The situation in Seattle isn’t the first squabble involving churches giving away free pizza to students.
At Wisconsin’s Middleton High School, free church-sponsored “Jesus Pizza” lunches at a local park have swelled to as many as 900 students in recent months as school officials there have repeatedly, unsuccessfully attempted to stop the giveaway, EAGnews reports.
Earlier this month, protesters with the Freedom From Religion Foundation and other atheist groups learned about the “Jesus Lunches” and boycotted the weekly event. And despite an antagonizing confrontation with dozens of non-believing zealots, the students have remained restrained and humble.
“While we were sharing our message, which was about three minutes long, they started chanting ‘keep Jesus in the church.’ The kids didn’t retaliate. Then some of the protesters walked through with signs, heckling the kids, but they didn’t respond – they just kept eating,” parent volunteer Melissa Helbach said of a May 10 confrontation.
“All of us volunteers were so impressed. It was the power of the Holy Spirit – it was a really cool thing to see.”
In Seattle, the food workers union has threatened to picket Bethany Community Church if the pizza giveaway doesn’t stop, and Steinloski agreed to move the event to after school to eliminate the lunch time conflict.
“We are presuming honesty on pastor Nick’s part that they will stop serving during lunch,” Westberg told KOMO. “If they don’t stop we will be picketing.”
Local conservative radio Host Dori Monson pointed out it wasn’t the first time the union has threatened local organizations to get its way.
Monson pointed to a similar conflict between the union and local food truck vendors who sold pizza and other foods to students near schools in 2005 that ended with the city council voting to force the trucks to stay 1,000 feet from all schools.
“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, according to MyNorthwest.com. “Now we find out they are trying to strong arm a youth pastor who gives away free pizza.”
At least one student who spoke with KOKO believes the cafeteria workers union would be better off focusing on improving their own product than limiting students’ options.
“If they would cook it a little better, then they would have students up there eating, you know what I’m saying?” Nathan Hale junior Tajon Williams said.