My name is Jeanette Schiffer and I am a Shelton lunch lady. For 13 years I have enjoyed a modest and dignified living serving your children and my own. This year, a Grinch has come to town and taken over as my employer. This Grinch is not a fictional character by Dr. Seuss, but a real life monster. Not one of green fur and a heart two sizes too small, but a corporation whose greed has left no room for a heart at all.
Whitson’s Food Corporation has decided that this year I do not deserve a Christmas. They have stolen Christmas, as well as Thanksgiving and New Year’s to name a few. For the last 40 years, Shelton lunch ladies have received Thanksgiving and the day after as paid holidays, same as everyone else in the school district. This year, for the first time ever, we did not. In fact, between reductions to our holidays, vacation, and sick days, Whitson’s is stealing 4.5 weeks of pay from me this school year. Whitson’s believes paid time off is a luxury. However, I did not use the paid time off they are eliminating to travel to far off lands, but rather to help insulate me from a loss in pay during school shut downs. This vacation time was not vacation time at all, but my mortgage payment, my light bill, gas in my car and heat in my home.
The attack has not stopped there. One of the reasons I love my job is that it has provided me and my husband, a small business owner, with good, affordable health insurance for our family. Now Whitson’s has replaced my healthcare coverage with low-quality, high-deductible “insurance.” My husband is a survivor of an aggressive form of brain cancer, whose fight is not over. Under my old healthcare plan, that fight was winnable. Because we used to have good quality health insurance, we went to the doctor regularly, we caught his cancer early, and we didn’t have to go into debt to pay for his surgery, chemotherapy, and follow-up care. But with Whitson’s new plan, that fight is almost impossible. We have a $4,000 deductible, and even after we pay that, we still owe $1600 for every follow-up MRI and $690 each month for the drugs that keep him healthy. I’m kept up at night deciding between skipping an MRI appointment or a mortgage payment.
As we have continued to negotiate with Whitson’s I had hoped that their non-existent heart could grow three times larger, as it did for the Grinch. Sadly is has not. So this year, for me and my fellow workers there will be little Christmas cheer; what there will be is worry and fear. As you all take time to celebrate and be merry with the ones you love, we ask that you remember us. The other Shelton lunch ladies and I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, and hope that there will be one for us too.
The writer is a Shelton resident and cafeteria worker in Shelton public schools.