The Shelton Board of Education voted to renew its food service contract with the district’s most recent vendor at its June 27 meeting, despite a public outcry from local cafeteria workers who claim the company is threatening to make cuts to their paid-time-off.
A group of approximately 100 concerned Shelton school food service workers attended the Wednesday night, June 27 Board of Education meeting to voice their opposition to the renewal of the Whitsons Food service corporation’s contract with the city.
Even after months of resistance, the group of local cafeteria workers or “lunch ladies” fell short in its effort to have the board of ed not renew its contract with Whitsons by a vote of five to four.
Board members Kathy Yolish, Dr. Darlisa Ritter, Jose Goncalves, and David Gioiello all voted for the board of ed to deny Whitsons a contract renewal. Board of Ed Chair Mark Holden, Kate Kutash, Mandy Kilmartin, Tom Minotti and Anne Gaydos all voted in favor of the board renewing Whitsons contract for another year.
On the day of the June 27 Board of Ed meeting, a cafeteria worker named Janet Martin-Allen submitted a letter to the editor expressing that as a result of the cuts to be made by Whitsons, she would lose 11% of her total income.
Martin-Allen added that, “Whitsons, has refused to negotiate a contract that includes my previous PTO days (sick, holiday, personal, and vacation days).”
On Thursday, June 28 Whitsons responded with a message of their own, including comments that address Martin-Allen’s previous claims.
“Shelton School District contracted with Whitsons at the start of the 2017-18 school year to operate a quality and financially sound nutrition program, which we have done… Since the start of the 2017-18 school year Shelton’s union team members have expected to receive between 39 and 41 days of paid time off (ultimately at taxpayers’ expense since the school district reimburses Whitsons for that cost) for working less than 180 days per year. That’s 22.77% of their time being paid for doing no work… Ms. Martin may be “working hard every day”, but only for about 180 days (or less) a year. She and her co-workers cannot expect the same level of benefits as someone who works 365 days a year, especially at taxpayers’ expense.”
To read the full response from Whitsons, look at page 8A or visit SheltonHerald.com to follow the development of this story.
Whitsons continued and explained that when school is not in session and “a team member is not working (or not receiving pay), team members can, and do, apply for unemployment benefits.”
“Ms. Martin’s statement that she is losing 11% of her income is intentionally misleading since she does not take into account the income she receives from unemployment benefits,” according to Whitsons.
The board’s June 27 vote came after a series of comments made my cafeteria workers from the district.
Karen Morierty, who has worked at Shelton High School as a lunch lady for 20 years, said her hope was for the school board to delay the renewal of the contract until the group of cafeteria workers were able to reach a negotiation with Whitsons.
Representative for the group of cafeteria workers, also known as Local 217, Ian Dunn said the average Shelton family should care about this effort to support because it directly concerns them.
“These are Shelton moms, their kids went through Shelton schools. This is a job that many people depend on to get health insurance for their family. These are modest jobs, but it’s a good solid job that you can provide for your family with,” said Dunn. “These shouldn’t be fast food jobs, with fast food wages. These are kids. They deserve real food, and real food is real work.”
Gioiello said it’s unfortunate that the board keeps finding itself in positions where it’s required to make a vote that results in one party being a “loser.”
“We do that with the budget and we did it over the buses and now we’re being asked to do it again,” said Gioiello. “It would be wonderful if we could postpone this vote until after they have their meeting on July 2… It’s pretty much a decision where we either sign the contract and guarantee the kids have food next year or we don’t sign the contract and we’re sitting in violation of state requirements.”
Superintendent Dr. Chris Clouet said the district is required by state law to have a state approved food service by the end of the fiscal year, which was June 30.
“We’d be out of compliance and would potentially be putting ourselves in a situation where we would have to go out to bid,” said Clouet. “Going out to bid sounds easy, but it’s not. Going out to bid would also require a review of any new bidder, which could take up to 60 days. We could end up with no or less than quality food service.”
Clouet said he’s hopeful that the board’s vote to approve the renewal of Whitson’s contract will lead to a “fair solution” to the issue between the company and its Shelton employees’ union.
Gioiello added that if contract negotiations with the cafeteria workers does not resolve soon, he will not vote to approve that Whitsons remain in Shelton when they come to renew next year.