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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 10, 2010

GEA gets contract, no raises

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — About 200 school workers won’t be getting any salary raises this year, although they’ll still get incremental step increases.

Tuesday night, the school board unanimously agreed to a two-year contract with the Guilderland Employees’ Association, ending a difficult 15-month negotiation process.

“We engaged in some spirited discussion,” Neil Sanders, the assistant superintendent for business, told the board.

“This is a long time coming,” said Superintendent John McGuire, describing it as “a hard negotiation that was accomplished well.”

“I’m so glad negotiations are over,” said the GEA president, Michael Liegeot, yesterday. “We negotiated for over a year. It was a good give-and-take process,” he said. “The district is very fair.”

The two-year contract is retroactive; it runs from July 1, 2009 until June 30, 2011.

The union had initially asked for 5-percent raises in addition to step increases.

“When we first went into negotiations, the times weren’t so bad,” said Liegeot. “It kept getting worse and worse. We were in fear of losing more employees than we already are.”

The district budget for next year cuts five custodial posts, but just four people will lose their jobs, Liegeot said, because one custodian retired. One maintenance mechanic is also cut, and two bus routes are being cut but, again, two drivers were leaving and just won’t be replaced, he said.

“We have a lot of good, hard-working people,” said Liegeot.

Under the former four-year contract, mechanics and groundskeepers earned the most, making $15.25 on the first step and $22.39 on the top, 10th step. Substitute bus drivers earned the least, starting at $9.87 an hour and going up to $13.44 on the top step. Food-service workers started at $10.42 and went up to $13.98 on the top step.

Lin Severance, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, said that, in the first year of the new contract, from the 2008-09 school year to 2009-10, the increase from one step to the next is 2.98 percent. In the second year, from 2009-10 to 2010-11, the increase from step to step is 3.03 percent.

“Folks on step 10 will get an increase in pay of 40 cents an hour,” Severance said.

Comparing the pay for Guilderland workers with those in other Suburban Council school districts, Severance said, “We’re just a hair below the median.”

In 2008, there had been a major disagreement between the district and the GEA. It was the district’s understanding that the contract froze members on step as part of both the 2007-08 and the 2008-09 salary schedules, although the actual printed contract did not indicate the freeze.

“A decision was made in favor of the GEA,” Severance said this week, noting this was before she came to the district, “and they were given retroactive payment in the fall of 2008.”

A big accomplishment in the current contract, Severance said, “was clarifying confusing language” regarding seniority, the probationary period for new employees, and retirement incentives.

The most divisive issue was salary, said Severance. “I appreciate our ability to discuss the issues,” she said. “It was always very respectful. We agreed to disagree.”

While the school board’s vote was unanimous, the union vote was 120 to 60 in favor of the contract.

“Some people said we deserve more,” said Liegeot, who works as the head custodian at Westmere Elementary School. “A lot of us thought, ‘We have good jobs and good health insurance, and we’re in it for the kids.’”

Guilderland employees pay 20 percent of their health-insurance costs and the district pays the other 80 percent.

Liegeot went on to say that he thought the process used by the union during negotiations was “thorough and fair.”

“We have a committee of 14 members, from each department, who met monthly to go over counter proposals and the New York State budget,” he said.

Referring to the executive committee, Liegeot concluded, “I would like to thank the rest of my E Board, the negotiating committee, and all of the members for their patience.”

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