Prospect of new company concerns food-service staff

Staff Writer

Amid a search for a new food-service vendor by the Freehold Regional High School District, cafeteria employees have voiced concern for their jobs and benefits.

At a recent meeting of the Board of Education, food-service workers asked for consideration when district officials review proposals from possible food-service providers for the 2014-15 school year.

As of now, those individuals work for Sodexo Management Inc., the district’s current vendor, which declined to respond to the board’s request for proposals (RFP) for a new contract.

Board President Heshy Moses said the panel will keep the current food-service workers in mind before making a decision on a new food service provider.

“There is no prohibition in the RFP against a new food-service provider hiring current food service workers,” Moses said. “In fact, the RFP ensures that every current worker will have the opportunity to be considered by a new provider.”

The contract, he said, will be made in compliance with rating and ranking criteria set by the district.

Speaking only for himself, Moses said he plans to fight for the food-service workers.

“Obviously, I would like every one of you to be rehired,” he said. “I don’t like the fact that we have been put in this position by our current food provider, and we will do everything we can.”

Sodexo declined to submit a proposal to provide food services in the 2014-15 school year after posting financial losses in the district’s schools. During the 2012-13 school year, the company and the district lost hundreds of thousands of dollars with Sodexo behind the wheel, according to a previously published story.

A Sodexo spokesman said the company does not comment on active bid processes.

John Edmonds, a union representative who spoke on behalf of the food-service employees, said food vendors honored his clients’ jobs and benefits after the signing of new contracts in the past.

“Throughout the years, we have been able to make improvements in the contracts … but we have also lost some things,” said Edmonds, who went on to list the loss of a pension fund, cuts to hours and stricter eligibility requirements in order for an employee to receive health care benefits.

Several members of the largely female food-service staff also spoke, sometimes teary-eyed and always to applause from their peers who filled the room.

Barbara Boyce, who has worked in the district for 14 years, said her livelihood depends on the job.

“This is my income,” she said. “If I lose this, I lose my house because my husband passed away and this is all I have.”

Other employees said they carried their families’ health benefits or paid for their children’s college tuition by working at their job in the district.

Several employees spoke about the relationships they have with the students they serve. Some food-service employees are mothers who like to be near their high school-aged children, while others have built strong bonds with the students, they said.

“The kids know our staff and depend on us to know what they like and to have it for them,” said Kelly Soli, who has been a food-service employee in the district for 14 years.