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Cafeteria Union Applies Pressure; School Committee Makes Final Offer

School cafeteria union members ask for support from the public.

by Robert Stewart

 

  After a week of mounting tension between unionized cafeteria workers in the School District and the School Committee, an agreement could be reached that may satisfy the objectives of both the Union and the School District. After some negotiation between the School District and SEIU Local 888, the School Committee made a final offer which would outsource cafeteria services in the schools to an outside vendor and maintain present staff at current wage levels and benefits. The Union needs to accept the offer and the School Committee hopes to approve any final agreement by April 24.

   The final offer made by the School Committee includes privatizing cafeteria services in the schools, retaining an in-house staff except for two positions and continuation of current salaries and benefits for all staff retained. Whitsons, the outside vendor chosen by the School Committee, will operate cafeteria services in the schools. According to School Committee Chair Marlena Gilbert, the offer could result in a savings of $60,000. 

   The offer, however, also stipulates that any future employees hired for the cafeteria would not be unionized. That stipulation could be problematic for the union and could also lead to the breakdown of any mutual agreement between the union and the school district. The union is considering the offer and Gilbert indicated they will either accept the offer, reject it or offer a counterproposal. 

   The negotiation which produced the school district’s final offer followed a week of intense pressure and lobbying by SEIU Local 888 which included picketing on Main St., a town-wide automated phone message in support of cafeteria workers, attendance at Selectmen’s meeting on April 8 and a letter of support from Congresswoman Lori Trahan who represents Groton in the Third Congressional District. In her letter to the School District, Trahan states, “As you know, your current provider has faithfully served the school district and its student for many years. They are trusted members of the community who ensure that the school district’s children receive the nutrition they need, and parents expect…I encourage you to continue to negotiate to ensure the best outcome for the students in your schools.”

   School Committee Chair Marlena Gilbert responded to Trahan’s letter and explained that the School District finds itself in this situation because of the tax burden locally and numerous failed overrides and also due to lack of support from outside the local community. In her response to Trahan, Gilbert wrote, “So while your support (of workers) is acknowledged, the reality is we need yours. We need your help and your influence to obtain more funds for our district and other districts alike that are forced into these situations…because of the lack of support of school funding beyond the town level.” Gilbert continued in her response, “With all that said, the GDRSC has been and will continue to bargain in good faith to find a mutually agreeable alternative to outsourcing.”

   The School Committee delayed the decision on outsourcing cafeteria services at their meeting on April 10 and will await the union’s response to their offer. Gilbert indicated that the School Committee will then review the union response and discuss the issues on April 22. Gilbert said the School Committee does not plan any further delays and will make a final decision on cafeteria service at their meeting on April 24.

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