Schools Plan to Outsource Cafeteria Jobs
By Jon Winkler
GROTON -- Workers in school lunchrooms may be out of work soon in order for the school district to save money.
The Groton-Dunstable Regional School District Committee is terminating the contracts of its current cafeteria staff and planning to hire an out-of-state food vendor to fill the void. According to Local 888, a division of the Service Employees International Union for Massachusetts, the school is looking to hire Whitsons Culinary Group out of New York to prepare and serve meals to children in its school district. This would cut the jobs of about 30 school employees.
School Superintendent Laura Chesson issued a letter to Local 888 on behalf of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee on March 29 formally stating that the school would be ending its contract with the district cafeteria workers on June 30.
Rand Wilson, Local 888′s chief of staff, said last Tuesday that there were early signs of the contract termination coming in the past. He cited how the school had previously outsourced the district’s custodial staff about three years ago and that Whitsons’ plan would not provide health care for its staff, saving the school money. Though Wilson says this money-saving plan from Whitsons is not very concrete.
“Whitsons’ projections are not based on anything. They’re essentially a sales pitch,” Wilson said. “We told the superintendent this is a bad plan and the numbers are a wish list. All they’re doing is degrading the jobs and it’s criminal to think that’s the mindset in Groton-Dunstable.”
Whitsons has also been the subject of complaints in recent years. Whitsons had been providing its meals to Boston Public Schools before the system switched to Revolution Foods in mid-2017 after parents complained Whitsons’ meals tasted poorly. Charles Crease, a Whitsons employee who served as head cook at Longmeadow High School, was fired in late 2017 after being accused of sexual harassment by the head cook at Blueberry Hill Elementary School, also in Longmeadow. The Public Schools of Brookline also dealt with declining sales of lunches and parental complaints that their children weren’t eating the food in late 2018.
Chesson said last Wednesday that the school committee investigated these instances against Whitsons and pointed out that anyone working at the school on behalf of Whitsons would have their personal records checked.
She explained that the School Committee took a vote in January to look into making several economic decisions due to a recent audit performed by The Abrams Group. One of those things was outsourcing the district’s cafeteria service, citing a lack of students purchasing lunches, high costs of the food itself and the cost of offering health care to cafeteria staff. These factors, Chesson said, have caused a budget deficit between $160,000 to $180,000.
“If the union comes forward with a proposal, the School Committee is anxious and would like to strike a deal,” she said. “They need to bargain in good faith and then the School Committee could make a decision.”
Brenda Rodrigues, president of Local 888, said last Tuesday that the union is very interested in negotiating a new contract with the School Committee and hopes to not only ensure the staff keeps their health benefits but also get their wages increased.
“We’re going to see if we can make our case that these are good workers that are better than corporate ones because they’re invested in the children and the community,” she said.
One of those invested workers is Dorynda Auth, who has worked at the cafeteria of the Groton-Dunstable Regional Middle School for 16 years. She said that she felt “stabbed in the back” by the committee’s plans and is still “holding out hope” that a new contract can be reached.
“This affects all of us,” she said. “Most of us need the benefits and have children in the schools. It’s all about the kids and their health. We have a good rapport with the kids. Some children have food allergies and we can keep an eye on them. You don’t get that community feel from outsourcing.”