The steps of City Hall were hidden by a mass of green union T-shirts yesterday afternoon as New Haven Public Schools management, custodial and food-service workers held a rally to urge city leaders not to renew Aramark’s contract as the school system’s food-service provider.
Speakers and rally organizers encouraged Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and the school board to eliminate the Aramark middlemen and allow dining services and custodial staff in the city’s public schools to manage themselves.
“We were here when [Aramark] came, and we are going to be here when [it] go[es],” Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees International, said to the crowd over chants of “Kids first!” and “Aramark has got to go!”
Aramark — a food-services and facilities-management contractor formerly employed by Yale University Dining Services — has been under fire from local workers’ unions since November. The company is accused of mismanaging the schools’ food-service and custodial staff, providing food and custodial supplies that are of poor quality and wasting tax dollars because of inefficiencies — charges the company says are the product of unions’ unsuccessful efforts to recruit new members from the public schools’ ranks.
The Council 4 union workers are not interested in hiring another corporation to replace Aramark, McEntee said — they want an internal management system with public-sector workers from New Haven.
“We don’t need some other privatizer,” McEntee said. “Our local people know what’s best. They know how things work.”
Aramark is not transparent in its financial dealings, making it hard for New Haven taxpayers to know how their money is being spent, said Robert Montuori, president of the custodial-workers’ union local 287.
“Taxpayers are getting murdered,” he said, “and Aramark doesn’t want to show us how they use our money. I know how I earn my money, but what are they doing to earn theirs?”
Raphael Crespo, an elementary-school custodian, said Aramark is equally ineffective in responding to custodial needs and providing useful supplies. Custodians now have to use 10 to 15 gallons of the lower-quality cleaning solution provided by Aramark to clean an area that could be cleaned with a few gallons of the custodian-selected brand, Crespo said.
“We are the ones ultimately responsible for the outcome, for how clean the schools are,” he said. “Not Aramark.”
Aramark said the unions are attempting to run a public smear campaign to remove the company from the New Haven public schools. Karen Cutler, director of communications for Aramark, said unions in New Haven, which want more members, have targeted Aramark because the company has refused to force its employees to organize.
“[Forcing employees to unionize] would force Aramark’s employees into an unfair new system where they will potentially be subject to coercion, intimidation and fewer rights,” Cutler said.
DeStefano and the Board of Education will make the ultimate determination about who will manage the New Haven Public Schools’ food and custodial services before school starts in September. But Larry Amendola, president of the Local 3144 management-workers’ union, said DeStefano recognizes the budget problems Amarark’s management has caused and will take into account the grievances voiced by students, parents and employees when making a decision.
“I think the mayor is concerned,” he said. “And I am very confident that he will decide to remove Aramark.”
DeStefano and the Board of Education will announce the new food-service and custodial-management contract for New Haven Public Schools in early July.