Ellington School Employees Fend Off The Privateers

When Ellington school cafeteria workers heard that school officials were entertaining options to outsource their work to a private company, they shifted into overdrive to stop the effort before it gained any momentum.

The cafeteria workers are part of Local 1303-242 of Council 4, a bargaining unit that represents more than 50 Board of Education custodial, maintenance and food service employees.

Their current collective bargaining agreement expires June 30, 2018, prompting school administration to explore outsourcing with several companies, including Whitsons Culinary Group, a New York-based privateer.

Bargaining unit president Fred Gerber, a maintenance employee, and Susan Trotter, a veteran food service worker, were among those who spoke against outsourcing at multiple Board meetings, with many union members and concerned residents in attendance.

“Outsourcing is not in the interest of the students, the taxpayers and the employees of the Ellington school system,” Gerber told the Board of Education.

Trotter and her fellow food service workers also helped gather almost a thousand of Ellington residents’ signatures for an online petition, using Facebook to spread the word.

At a recent special Board of Education meeting, Trotter made an impassioned plea to dump the outsourcing idea, amplifying her message with a presentation that included large photo collages featuring happy students eating the fresh food that is provided via the union workers, as well as letters of praise from students, parents and faculty. 

Local 1303-242 President Fred Gerber, right, and fellow school employees made their voices heard during a recent Ellington Board of Education meeting.

“We always put our children first,” Trotter said, pointing out that she and many of her Union colleagues are town residents whose children have gone through the Ellington system. “We love our jobs, we love our students and we love our food service program.”

Trotter also took aim at one of the most nefarious characteristics of outsourcing – the shift to minimum wage employment with poor benefits and little to no workplace rights.

“Would you want to stay in your job if you knew that was going to happen to you?” Trotter asked Board members. “How would that make you feel? It hurts us. A lot.”

Cafeteria employee Sandi Lemieux emphasized that point to the Board. “To hear we were going to be outsourced was a shock to all of us. You can’t put a price on what we do,” she said. “The one constant is that we all love our kids. That’s never changed.”

The workers’ efforts have paid off. The Ellington Board of Education’s attorney notified Council 4 Staff Representative J. Wells that the Board would not pursue the privatization of any bargaining unit work in the upcoming negotiations for a new contract.

The Board, however, is debating whether to hire Whitson’s to manage Ellington school food service, and abandon the local purchasing of meat, vegetables, and, of all things, milk – with community fixtures like Oakridge Dairy right in town.

Local 1303-242 members will continue to speak against what they know is a reckless pursuit of profit over public service, Town identity and the local economy.

“We need to think about the kids and this Town” Trotter said. “Our children and our community do come first."