The Valley Indy received the following statement from Karen Dittrich, the marketing manager of Whitsons Culinary Group, in response to an Oct. 2 story about cafeteria workers in Shelton protesting a new contract with the company.
Whitsons is looking forward to a long partnership with Shelton School District and members of the greater school community. After being awarded with the food services account for the Shelton School District in June 2017, Whitsons offered 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 more than $17/hour.
It is our standard practice to offer employees medical benefits after the first 60 days of employment if eligible. However, in the best interest of our team members at Shelton whose Union Health Insurance were being shut off on Aug. 30 and would have to enroll on COBRA to continue their coverage; Whitsons agreed to pay up to 70 percent of the COBRA costs for all team members during the 60 day eligibility period, even those who work less than 30 hours a week and normally would not be eligible to receive those benefits under the Affordable Care Act. This is at a comparable rate to what they were previously accustomed to. We do not normally provide this, however we offered these benefits in good faith to ease the burden on the team members. Although coverage was offered to everyone, a few chose not to take advantage of COBRA.
Whitsons’ food service program includes fresher and more innovative meal solutions than what may have been offered to Shelton students in the past. The Unions’ proposal calls for additional increases in pay and health plan rate increases, such as giving raises that total $4.00 per hour over four years (the previous contract raises with Sodexo provided a $0.85 per hour increase over three years). Paid time off and other benefits enjoyed by the Shelton team are not sustainable if the food service program is to break even and offer the variety of healthy choices to the students. The foodservice staff works 171-181 days a year (subject to the school they work at). Depending on their date of hire, under their old contract as well as their current proposal they receive anywhere from 28 to 41 paid days off, in addition to the ability to collect unemployment for any times where they are off for more than two work days in any week. Giving in to these demands would result in a negative financial effect and put the program more than $550,000 over budget each year. These costs would ultimately have to be funded by taxpayer money to the detriment of other programs that could benefit students and would ultimately hurt the ability to help make Shelton’s lunch program a successful one for the children.
Whitsons supports offering fair benefits which are consistent with market reality and meet our obligation to be a prudent financial steward of the food service program for the benefit of the district and the children we serve. We intend to continue negotiating in good faith and are confident that we will be able to reach a fair agreement. Having said that, Whitsons is taking all necessary precautions to ensure the program is adequately staffed so that no disruption to the program occurs.
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