New food options installed by January

By Alex Gershanov
Published: November 2010

After nine months of uncertainty, tense negotiations, and back and forth bargaining, new and varied food options for students are just around the corner.
The School Committee and the School Nutrition Workers Association have finally settled on a food service agreement, allowing Whitsons School Nutrition to take over all food operations in Newton beginning January 4.
Whitsons promises to offer more lunch and breakfast options, as well as to employ all Newton cafeteria staff, including those laid off earlier this year.
“Our agreement is to offer the staff that were laid off positions if they have an interest in returning; we will be glad to welcome them into the family and train them, Whitsons director of marketing Holly Von Seggern said.
According to Von Seggern, the company will install equipment and retrofit the cafeteria over December break. Though she hopes Whitsons will deliver all promised food options by students’ return in January, she mentioned a challenge will be training all current cafeteria staff to meet company requirements.
“One of the biggest deals with transferring over to a different food service provider is making sure all the team members know how to prepare the food, she said.
After the switch, students will enjoy multiple food options, including burritos, quesadillas, pizza, grilled foods, sandwiches, wraps, salads, a snack bar, and a hot entrée varying day-to-day. The proposed menu will provide nearly twice the options currently available to South students. Main courses will still cost $3.50.
The improved menu comes with a hitch, however. Though all current and former cafeteria employees are promised a job within the new company, their wages will be reduced – some dramatically.
Cafeteria manager Linda Cloonan worries that what Whitsons promises about her salary may not prove entirely true.
“I want to make sure I’m going to get what I’m promised, she said. “They told me I’m going to get 91 percent of my [current] pay, but from the figures I’ve seen it seems more like 70 or 60.
In a Memorandum of Agreement between the School Committee and Whitsons, the manager is promised pay for 8 hours a day and 194 days, equaling 91 percent of Cloonan’s previous salary.
Cloonan explained, however, that her work day is typically 7 hours, not 8, and that the 194 days listed includes 11 sick days, which she receives payment for only if unused. With those considerations taken into account, she will earn only 75 percent of her current pay.
Her coworkers will likely face the same cuts; meanwhile, their obligations to support their families will remain unchanged.
On the other hand, the cafeteria workers will now be eligible to receive unemployment checks during their off-seasons: holidays, vacations, etc.
“They tell us that we are now allowed to collect unemployment whereas with the city we couldn’t, Cloonan added.
Head of the negotiating team for the School Committee, Jonathan Yeo, believes that all groups benefit from the new contract.
“This is a win-win situation for all the parties I think: the employees get to keep their jobs if they desire to and we provide a transition for them on the benefits issue, he said. “We also get a better food service program and get very large savings to the school budget.
Last year’s food program ran on a million dollar deficit every year. By privatizing the food service program, the city will save three quarters of a million dollars this year and next, Yeo says, and become self-sustaining in its third year.
“[Last year's] program was losing a million dollars a year which is a million dollars we can’t use in the classroom, he said.
Von Seggern explained that Whitsons is able to reduce cost and increase efficiency by relying on long-lasting relationships with suppliers to receive high quality yet less expensive ingredients.
Newton’s contract with Whitsons will last for three years, and then be up for reevaluation and open for bid to outside companies.
While Yeo and Von Seggern are enthusiastic about the switch, Cloonan and the cafeteria staff worries about the effects it will have on their jobs.
“It’s less pay and less hours, Cloonan said.
In the mean time, her staff is having difficulty managing the cafeteria, Cloonan says, as the future looks uncertain and workers are using up more and more of their sick days before Whitsons takes over.
“Everyone is sad about it, she said. “Basically our lawyer even told us it’s not a good deal; they’ve tried to take care of us as best they could for the next three years, but after that, it’s not going to be a good job for anyone.

Read more

Like it? Share it!


Copyright © Denebola | The Official School Newspaper of Newton South High School | 140 Brandeis Road, Newton, MA 02459.
Site designed by Chenzhe Cao.