Five years ago, I came home from my job as the lead worker in Shelton’s SunnySide School cafeteria and got one of the worst phone calls of my life. My son’s doctor called and told us that they had found a mass and he needed surgery to remove it. We scheduled the operation as soon as possible.
The procedure went well, but the news from our doctor wasn’t good. The mass was mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer that could reappear in another part of my son’s body. My son will need regular testing to ensure that he can enjoy life without cancer.
This experience taught my family the importance of quality, affordable medical insurance. Over the past five years, we have seen many doctors. My son needed many tests and surgery. As a cafeteria worker, I have been able to afford this care without medical debt because of the health insurance I have access to through work. My husband is self-employed. We have no other way to get affordable insurance that would cover this level of expense.
These days, my family and I still own our home in Shelton and I still work at SunnySide. I love my job and I want to continue to work there for many years to come. This is why I decided to participate in our contract negotiating committee.
When the Board of Education decided to switch food service contractors this year, my co-workers and I were concerned that we would stand to lose the wages and benefits that keep our families afloat. We repeatedly shared our concerns with the Board and Superintendent.
Ultimately, we took comfort in the Superintendent’s promises that we would receive comparable wages and benefits from our new employer. I can attest that this simply has not been the case.
We are finishing our second month of negotiations with Whitsons and they are continuing to try and reduce our annual income by 10-12% and force those of us who need medical insurance into low-quality, high-cost plans. Whitsons’ insurance plans are designed so that no worker could afford to purchase them. For some of us, this would equal more than 92% of our weekly check. A worker earning $497.10 per week before taxes (for 30 hours of work) cannot reasonably afford to pay $457.72 per week for health insurance! On top of that, the $2,000 deductible would require more than we earn all together.
This is a crisis. My co-workers and I are willing to do our part to reach a contract settlement, but Whitsons and the Board need to work with us. The Superintendent and Board members have told us repeatedly that their hands are tied and they can do nothing. This simply is not true.
Their contract with Whitsons grants the Board the right to change their expectations of the company at any time.
My son needs insurance. I will stand up to protect him. I will continue to stand alongside my co- workers to picket, leaflet, and collect signatures. And I will keep at it until we win. My co-workers and I are in the right and we will persevere. We ask for your support as we call on Whitsons and the Board of Education to protect our modest jobs. Shelton residents deserve better.