A sharply divided City Council declined Tuesday to take a stand in favor of the school cafeteria workers who may be replaced by a private food services firm.
The council’s three Democrats supported a move to call on the Board of Education to abandon any legal appeals and focus instead on working with the union representing the 53 cafeteria employees who are slated to lose their jobs in the privatization bid.
But the four Republicans, including Mayor Ken Cockayne, opted to sidestep a direct vote and instead backed a motion to postpone indefinitely any action on city Councilor Calvin Brown’s resolution asking the Board of Education to cease fighting with the union.
Brown said the GOP council members “don’t want to take a stand” and chose instead to shirk a vote. He accused them of “acting out of cowardice” instead of standing by the cafeteria workers.
City Councilor Eric Carlson, a Republican, said he believed that requesting any action by the school panel would be “a little bit overstepping our bounds.”
“I don’t have a dog in this fight,” Carlson said.
Another councilor, Republican Henri Martin, made the motion to table Brown’s resolution. He said he did not think the council should interfere with a school board choice.
“Let them settle this. This is not our fight,” said Martin, who is seeking election to the 31st District state Senate seat representing Bristol, Plainville, Plymouth, Thomaston and most of Harwinton.
At its Wednesday meeting, the school board plans to discuss whether to appeal a decision last month by the state Board of Labor Relations that ordered it to honor the tentative agreement it negotiated with the union. The school board had decided to drop the deal and hire a private cafeteria operator instead, a decision made along partisan lines by its Republican majority.
City Councilor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu, a Democrat, said the $140,000 the school board has already spent on legal fees trying to push privatization would have been better used for classroom needs.
The other Democratic councilor, Mary Fortier, said the GOP majority’s refusal to take a clear vote was “a cowardly way of getting out” of making their positions clear.
But Cockayne, who said during last year’s mayoral race that he opposed the cafeteria privatization, said the mayor and council “have zero to do with Board of Ed contracts” and shouldn’t take a formal position.
“It’s not our say,” the mayor said, adding that councilors “would be pretty peeved” if the school board sought to tell them what to do.
Brown said the council has a duty to try to protect the 53 cafeteria workers whose “lives are being toyed with” by a school board that made an “unjust or illegal” decision to ignore the deal it negotiated with the union.
The school board meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium of the district headquarters at 129 Church St.