Whitsons is built on a foundation of wholesome foods and strong family values, and has a long history of partnering with school districts to provide innovative food services for their school communities. We operate at many, union as well as non-union, locations where we have harmonious employee relations.
The Shelton School District granted a contract to Whitsons to operate a financially sound food service program and encouraged Whitsons to hire the existing cafeteria workers. Whitsons did offer and awarded positions to all of the Shelton food service workers on the roster provided by the district at their existing rates of pay, which average about $16.74/hour. The District’s former provider was running a deficit every year and continuing with them would have required the District to make additional reductions to classroom staff. As the Chairman of the Board of Education recently stated, “In order for us to re-enter that negotiation process we would end up having to lay off one or two teachers … despite appreciating all of the work done by the cafeteria workers, laying off teachers to help them to maintain their benefits is unrealistic.” Whitsons has offered fair wages and benefits, consistent with market reality and the financial requirements of the District. For example:
- Health Benefits — It is our standard practice to offer employees medical benefits after the
first 60 days of employment, if eligible (the law provides for a 90 day waiting period).
After Sodexo lost the bid for the food service contract, the Union discontinued the team members’ health coverage under the Union plan, and they then became eligible for COBRA. Under COBRA, the team members would have had to pay 100% of their healthcare coverage. Instead, understanding the burden this would have placed on the team members, Whitsons agreed to pay up to 70% of the COBRA costs for all team members during the 60 day eligibility period, even for those who work less than 30 hours a week and normally would not be eligible to receive those benefits under the Affordable Care Act. Although coverage was offered to everyone, a few chose not to take advantage of COBRA and go without health coverage. We are now continuing to provide healthcare coverage under the Whitsons Health Plan, while we negotiate our union contract, at a cost of 70% to Whitsons and 30% to the team member. The Union is demanding these team members go back into the Union plan and that Whitsons pay 80% of the cost in the first year, 85% the second year and 90% the third year. Whitsons requested a copy of the plan summary descriptions and what the monthly rate increase will be each year. To date the Union has failed to provide both of those items, preferring to negotiate in the press. To expect Whitsons to agree to an unknown increase each year is unreasonable and not in keeping with our obligation to the District. As all labor costs are a cost of the food service program which are charged to the District, it would be irresponsible for Whitsons to agree to unreasonable labor cost that would cause a deficit to the food service program and jeopardize the District’s ability to fund educational programs. Whitsons’ latest proposal on November 7th and again December 5th was to accept the Union health plan and pay 70% of the monthly cost the Union proposed for eligible team members. The Union has not moved on their proposal.
- Paid Time Off — Depending on their date of hire, under their old contract team members received anywhere from 28 to 41 paid days off in the form of up to 3 weeks’ vacation, 12 Paid Holidays, and 12 paid sick days (Connecticut law mandates up to 5 sick days only).
Most of these team members work a maximum of 181 days a year. Each team member was given 5 paid days off to use so far while we are negotiating to ensure they had days to use for Holidays and/or sickness. Most if not all opted to take their PTO time for Thanksgiving and the day after and were paid accordingly. So any claim Whitsons denied them the option to be paid for those days is inaccurate. Whitsons’ last proposal to the Union was to give them 15 paid days off the first year increasing to 21 paid days off after three years. There has been significant fair movement on Whitsons’ part to which the Union has only offered to give up 3 sick and 1 Holiday over the three years. The team members also have the ability to collect unemployment for any times during which they are off more than two days in a week as a result of school being closed, for example Holidays, Christmas and Winter breaks as well as summer break.
Whitsons recognizes the hard work these team members do day in and day out, and acknowledges that these negotiations create stress and uncertainty in their lives. It is for those reasons that Whitsons has bargained in good faith and diligently to complete these negotiations.
The Whitsons Family Foundation has even made hardship grants to two employees (even though these team members were not yet eligible for this program).
Contrary to the union’s assertions and attempts at distorting the facts, Whitsons has made significant movement in addressing the team members’ concerns; yet the Union continues its propaganda campaign against Whitsons daily. Whitsons will continue negotiating in good faith and is confident that it will be able to reach a fair agreement, but it will not be bullied into an unreasonable agreement that would cause the food service program to operate at a loss for the District. We are focused on providing a quality and financially sound food service program for the benefit of the district and the children we serve.