Behind every seemingly good deed in the Obama White House, there's a deep-pocketed, left-wing special interest. Take first lady Michelle Obama's crusade against childhood obesity. Who really benefits from the ostensible push for improved nutrition in the schools? Think purple -- as in the purple-shirted army of the Service Employees International Union. Big Labor bigwigs don't care about slimming your kids' waistlines. They care about beefing up their membership rolls and fattening their coffers.
Mrs. Obama earned a State of the Union address shout-out from her hubby for taking on the weighty public policy issue of students' physical fitness. The East Wing is now in full campaign mode -- leaning on the nation's mayors, traveling with the surgeon general and meeting with Congress and cabinet members to reauthorize the Lyndon Johnson-era Child Nutrition Act, which provides government-subsidized meals to more than 30 million children. It's part of the Obama administration's self-proclaimed "cradle-to-career" agenda for America's youth.
For decades, school administrators have criticized this Great Society relic for outgrowing its initial conception. The program was originally created to use up post-World War II food surpluses. In the late 1970s, New York principal Lewis Lyman skewered it as a federal "boondoggle" in a seminal essay for the education journal Phi Delta Kappan. But Democrats demagogued the GOP's responsible attempts at financial reform during the Clinton years as "starving the children." While spending on youth nutrition and wellness have ballooned, so have the kids. Nearly one-third of U.S. children are now overweight or obese. The feds spend $15 billion a year on nutrition in schools; the White House wants at least a $1 billion increase this coming fiscal year.
The well-intended program to feed poor kids has morphed into an untouchable universal entitlement with a powerful school-lunch lobbying coalition of Department of Agriculture bureaucrats, food-service industry executives and union bosses. Enter the SEIU. Headed by the White House's most frequent visitor, Andy Stern, the powerful labor organization representing government and private service employees has an insatiable appetite for power and growth. Working alongside the first lady, the SEIU unveiled a major ad campaign this week demanding reauthorizing and funding increases in the Child Nutrition Act.
What's in it for Big Labor? SEIU Executive Vice President Mitch Ackerman explains: "A more robust expansion of school lunch, breakfast, summer feeding, child care and WIC (the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program) is critical to reducing hunger, ending childhood obesity and providing fair wages and healthcare for front line food service workers(emphasis added)."
There are 400,000 workers who prepare and serve lunch to American schoolchildren. SEIU represents tens of thousands of those workers and is trying to unionize many more. "More robust expansion" of the federal school-lunch law means a mandate for higher wages, increased benefits and government-guaranteed health insurance coverage (the more luxurious the better now that SEIU has negotiated its Cadillac Tax exemption from the Democrats' health care takeover bill).
The SEIU's front group, "Campaign for Quality Services," is clamoring for "the right to sick days and training" for school food-services workers. Never ones to let a crisis go unexploited, SEIU sent its members to lobby in front of Chicago public schools last year and scare parents into supporting their labor agenda. They accused the school system of "putting our kids at risk" during flu season by resisting the SEIU's sick day coverage demands. "Without sick days, I can't take a day off, so I have to bring germs to school," an SEIU janitor lamented.
Along the same lines, they are casting food-services workers as indispensable saviors. The union has rallied behind P.R. efforts casting them as superheroes "serving justice, and serving lunch." Opposing the union means opposing children's health. SEIU propaganda features New Jersey school cafeteria workers like Leslie Williams of Orange, N.J., lamenting: "I love my work, but it's getting harder to prepare nutritious meals on the low budget we're working with. … It breaks my heart to see a child who's hungry. As I see it, part of my job is to make sure the kids are well-fed."
Actually, that's the primary job of parents. Mom? Dad? Remember them? But the more responsibility we demand of parents, the less power and influence SEIU bosses are able to grab. Unionized school dietician and nutrition jobs are booming. And in addition to school breakfast and lunch, the SEIU is now pushing subsidized dinner plans and summer food service to create a "stronger nutrition safety net." Translation: Perpetual employment for big government and its public employee union au pairs.
Cede the children, feed the state.