By LISA CAPOBIANCO
Cafeteria workers and the public filled the auditorium room of the school administrative building last Wednesday to continue to speak out against the Board of Education’s decision to privatize the cafeteria work and contract it out to Long Island company Whitsons Culinary Group.
Last month, all Republican school board members, including Chairperson Larry Amara, Genard Dolan, Jill Fitzgerald, Jennifer Due and Jeffrey Morgan, voted to approve outsourcing the cafeteria work to Whitsons in order to eliminate the cafeteria budget’s deficit. This year, the cafeteria budget is more than $200,000 in debt.
“Do we know anything about the people they hire,” asked Democratic City Councilor Calvin Brown who also spoke against privatizing cafeteria work last month. “We need an answer to that—we need some transparency.”
During the meeting, Democratic City Councilor Mary Fortier recalled how the union benefits package her parents received helped her sister, who was seriously injured in a car accident years ago. Fortier said her parents were able to take care of her sister because they were both city employees in Bristol.
“My mom was able to modify her schedule due to union benefits that she enjoyed—they had health insurance that was very good, insurance that allowed them to take care of the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bills,” said Fortier, noting how her parents have good union retirement package.
Michael Petosa, the president of the Greater Bristol Labor Council, also spoke out against privatizing cafeteria workers. Petosa said a new report called “Race to the Bottom, which was released by resource center “In the Public Interest,” shows how outsourcing public services creates a downward spiral in which reduced worker wages and benefits have a negative impact on the overall stability of middle and working class communities.
“If Whitsons remains the employer, dedicated taxpaying Bristol residents will suffer serious cuts in pay and benefits—some will lose their healthcare, some will lose their jobs period,” said Petosa. “It’s not acceptable to the middle class.”
During the meeting, several representatives of Whitsons provided the school board an overview of the kinds of food services offered to Bristol students this fall.
Ozzie Orsillo, the regional vice president of business development, gave an overview about the school lunch program. Founded in 1979, Whitsons Culinary Group is a family-owned company that offers dining services to consumers and public and private organizations nationwide. Its services include school nutrition, residential and healthcare dining, prepared meals, corporate dining, vending services, and emergency dining.
“Our operating philosophy falls around three things: people, food and communication,” said Osillo. “When it comes to people, we believe in treating everyone like family…that’s something we feel has been forgotten in corporate America.”
Orsillo said high school students will see a number of food options, including the Great American Deli, which will feature Boar’s Head cold cuts and sandwiches made to order. The La Cucina vendor will offer pizzas, stromboli, and calzones, and the Coyote Grill will serve Mexican food. High school students also can access a grab-and-go station, which will serve a variety of burgers and specialty sandwiches. Orsillo said the cafeteria also will feature “Chef Productions,” which will offer traditional meals and comfort foods, such as macaroni and cheese and turkey dinners. Students on the go can also access prepared salads and fruits.
Orsillo said middle school students also will see many of the same menu concepts. Their cafeterias also will offer Coyote Grill and Chef Productions as well as a grab-and-go station.
“We want to serve wholesome food that tastes great,” said Orsillo, noting how Whitsons includes scratch-cooking in one of its food practices.
Whitsons Nutrition Safari elementary nutrition education program will be implemented at the elementary schools. This program educates school-aged children about healthy eating through the use of animal characters. Students can choose from a variety of meal options, including hot meals, salads, or deli sandwiches.
“There’s something for everybody,” said Orsillo, adding Whitsons hopes to expand the breakfast program.
Comments? Email lcapobianco@Bristol Observer.com.
By LISA CAPOBIANCO