After facing a similar a situation with , the district now faces the potential for another labor strike at the start of the new school year.
cafeteria workers say they could decide to go on strike if labor negotiations with the company that manages the district's kitchens continues to stall.
Public to Private
The East Haven Schools cafeterias are managed by the Long Island-based Whitsons Culinary Group.
The cafeteria workers, members of the the United Public Service Employees Union, were previously employed by the school district.
But when the Board of Education , they shifted over to Whitson's employee rolls.
The school board said it had hoped the move would , with additional savings in the future years.
But at that time , saying they were concerned about what outsourcing the district's cafeterias could mean to their job security, wages and benefits — as well as the overall quality of the food and food service students receive.
Currently, the district's 30 cafeteria are working without a contract.
And now, after Whitson's contract with the district was unanimously extended by the school board at its June 26 meeting (see meeting minutes attached to this article), the two sides must negotiate a new labor agreement in order to move forward.
But, according to local union members, there has been little progress.
Tuesday Talks Lag
Local UPSEU president Judy Kamienski told East Haven Patch that the union approached Whitson's in April looking to begin contract negotiations.
Since that time, the company declined 15 union-suggested dates to meet for contract talks, according to Kamienski.
The two sides, however, finally met on Tuesday.
But Kamienski said, as far as the union was concerned, the two groups are still oceans apart as far as an agreement.
Whitson's did not immediately reply to a late afternoon request for comment.
Quality of Food Service
In addition to wage and benefits, Kamienski said the workers are also very concerned about their ability to deliver students a healthy, well-balanced meal each day — both in quality and quantity — under the group's management.
Because, she said, as a private company Whitson's ultimately is concerned about making a profit.
Questions about the quality and quantity of school meals has also been discussed by school board members at various board of education meetings over the last several months.
Most recently at the May 22 meeting, BOE member Christine Maisano said she had received a couple of calls from residents concerned that school meal portions had been cut. (see meeting minutes attached to this article)
Additionally, last October some school board members with the group after news broke the company had reached an $1.6 million settlement with the State of New York for reportedly illegally overcharging numerous school districts there.
Superintendent of Schools Anthony Serio and Board of Education Chairman Thomas Hennessey did not immediately return late afternoon phone calls and emails from East Haven Patch.
Kamienski said there will be a back-to-school meeting with Whitson's managers on Monday.
Then, the cafeteria workers will be getting together separately on Tuesday. At that meeting, union members will take a vote on where they stand on the current status of negotiations with Whitson's.
"The vote is to say, 'Are you willing to strike if they don't come back to the bargaining table with a good enough of an offer,'" Kamienski told East Haven Patch Friday afternoon.
Kamienski, who has worked preparing meals for East Haven Public School children for more than 28 years, said the vote would be the first step toward a strike.
If things don't progress adequately, the union could take another vote to actually walk off the job.
"We're serious about negotiating, but they are not dealing with us in good faith. Not at this point," she said.
East Haven Patch will continue to provide updates and information as this story continues to develop.
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