The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

June 12, 2012

Media eats up story about union 'victory'

By Joy Leiker
Herald Staff Writer

---- — It was a short story -- 241 words. And it was far from the most important story, or most-talked about story, of the past weekend.

But the story of a union dispute and settlement involving Sharpsville Area Schools AFSCME members has gone viral.

On Sunday I reported about the grievance and settlement of cafeteria workers who alleged the school district “violated established past practice” in charging cafeteria workers for food and drinks that, according to safe food regulations, couldn’t be sold to or consumed by students because they had either passed their expiration date or been re-heated.

The union filed a grievance and the district eventually relented, saying cafeteria union workers indeed can eat and drink those items for free, though they must pay for anything else.

On Sunday the Associated Press picked up the story, which isn’t that unusual. The AP edited it a bit and added the headline: “School union wins right to eat expired food.” From there newspapers and television stations all over picked it up, printing it and including it on their websites. It crisscrossed the country, from the Washington Post to the Oregonian, with lots of clicks in between.

In the news business, all of this is pretty standard.

But then Monday afternoon The Herald suddenly had a huge uptick in visitors to our website, and all of those new eyes were staring at the same story, thanks to a link and a tweet from The Drudge Report.

Today, it went a little farther, as news outlets start to put their own spin on the story.

The Huffington Post wrote this lede to the story: “You know that public school employee salaries are low when cafeteria workers fight for the right to eat expired food -- at their own risk.”

Comedy Central had a lot of fun with it. Their headline: Union workers prevail in stunning victory.

And Comedy Central’s bottom line: “Things are really looking up for labor! Sure, collective bargaining agreements are soon to become ineffective tools to settle beefs between workers and employers, but at least the exploited laborers of the future will have all the expired beef they can eat.”

Websites and blogs I’ve never heard of have picked up the story too. Something called “The Christian Post” added this sentence, which wasn’t written anywhere in my story: “Representatives from the union had been working tirelessly to resolve this dispute.”

I presume the writer made that leap because the grievance was filed in 2011, and approved by the school board in 2012.

Others were more worried about the food. wrote: “Not sure what the biggest issue is here ... the union grievance or the amount of wasted food at school cafeterias to where there IS expired food and leftovers.”

And “The Consumerist” added this:  “Free food that might get you sick or paying for a meal? I’m pretty sure I’d take the risk, or at least would like the right to do so.”

The moral of the story: You never know where a story might go.

And, if you’re a night owl, you might keep your eyes and ears tuned to Jay Leno, David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel or your favorite late night comedian. They just might be talking about Sharpsville.

Herald Staff Writer Joy Leiker covers Sharpsville, West Middlesex, South Pymatuning Township and education.