Mad Cow Fights Privatization

Guerrilla theatre (or at least cow theatre) came to Franklin High School in Seattle recently during the height of the “mad cow” scare, when a rank-and-file officer from Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 609 in cow costume met with students there during a lunch period.

IUOE 609 represents over 200 food-service workers in Seattle schools, whose jobs are threatened by the private vendors who often set up shop immediately next to school grounds. As larger numbers of students buy lunch from private vendors rather than in the school cafeteria, these workers’ jobs are put at greater and greater risk.

Jeffrey Wasson, pictured here in costume, explained to students that meat in school lunches is safer to eat than food purchased from nearby fast-food franchises and other vendors. While governmental regulations have prohibited serving meat from “downer cows” in the National School Lunch Program since 2000, private-sector vendors until recently had been allowed to sell food that came from enfeebled cattle too crippled or infirm to walk. The U.S. Department of Agriculture finally banned use of downer cows for human consumption on December 30.

The union’s strategy extends beyond guerrilla theatre to political action. The Seattle City Council is considering the union’s proposal to ban vendors from selling food within 1,000 feet of public schools.