At last, GEA has pact
GUILDERLAND — The school board here ratified two labor contracts Tuesday night — one of them, with the district’s second largest union, 186 strong, had been at an impasse and took two years to negotiate.
The Guilderland Employees’ Association, with a contract that expired on June 30, 2011, will now have a four-year pact, ending on June 30, 2015. Hourly wage rates will increase from 1 to 1.97 percent over the four years.
It was smooth sailing for the second contract. It took just three meetings for the 13-member Non-Instructional Supervisors Unit and Other Management Personnel unit to come up with a three-year contract. Members will get 2-percent raises in the first year, 1.8 percent in the second year, and 1.6 percent in the third year.
“We were able to come to a very reasonable agreement,” Superintendent Marie Wiles told the school board, which ratified the GEA pact unanimously. The GEA members she said, voted for the contract, 81 to 11.
“These are not easy times,” noted Assistant Superintendent for Business Neil Sanders who helps negotiate for the district. He said he was “most proud” of how “our staff continued to serve students” despite not having a new contract.
“I’m just thrilled the element of compromise came to the fore…These are great people,” said board President Barbara Fraterrigo of GEA members.
Lin Severance, the district’s assistant superintendent for human resources, told The Enterprise yesterday, “Even though it has taken us two years, at all times, they were very professional…It’s difficult always to be far apart…It’s very encouraging and heartwarming to know the members are professionals that, at all times, did their jobs extremely well.”
The membership of the GEA, which is unaffiliated, includes cooks and cashiers, food service workers, bus drivers and bus aids, building maintenance mechanics, auto mechanics and bus garage helpers, custodial workers, and groundskeepers.
An impasse was declared jointly in January, with wages being the biggest sticking point.
“We’re looking for a reasonable salary increase,” said Thomas J. Jordan, the GEA’s lawyer, in February as he readied for the fact-finder’s hearing.
“We’re not looking for the moon,” he went on. “We just want them to be fair, in line with the other units.”
“We have a difference of opinion as to what a raise is,” said Severance at the time, responding to Jordan’s assertions. “There are raises built into the step structure.”
The GEA’s prior two-year contract expired on June 30, 2011. That contract took a year to negotiate and, while the union initially asked for 5-percent raises in addition to step increases, it eventually settled on no salary raises. Members then became frustrated as other units were given raises.
Since there was a two-year lag with negotiations, Severance said yesterday, “We were able to get a fourth year, or we’d be right back at the bargaining table.”
The fact-finder’s report, she said, was key to reaching middle ground. Jeff Cassidy, the fact finder, she said, “did a very extensive report, looking at all the information from both sides…and also taking the opportunity to educate the unit on the fiscal climate.”
Besides wages, she said, Cassidy looked at other issues. “If the board of education was willing to accept the fact-finder’s report, the association agreed to do the same,” Severance said.
One of the issues was the use of surveillance cameras. The district has installed the cameras on buses as well as in buildings.
“We’ve got them all over the place,” said Severance, stating the intention was for safety but that sometimes it might result in the discipline of an employee.
“The association requested language to acknowledge the district isn’t using the cameras to watch employees,” said Severance, and the district agreed.
Another issue was the requirement that workers accumulate 100 unused sick days — each worker is allotted 12 or 15 a year, said Severance — before they would be eligible for health benefits at retirement. Severance said this was meant to curb a “high absentee rate.”
“They negotiated to remove that language,” she said, so there is no requirement for accumulated sick days. “That was a real big one for them,” said Severance.
The agreed-on wage increases are “complicated,” said Severance, explaining the four years of increases this way:
In the first year, there is a 1.15-percent increase on each wage rate for each job classification on the salary schedule.
The GEA salary schedule has 10 steps, which workers typically progress up each year, and a half-dozen rate categories, based on responsibility, with, for example, one for drivers, another for bus attendants and food-service workers, and still another for mechanics and custodians.
The second year, there is a 1-percent increase on each wage rate for each job classification on the salary schedule.
The third year, there is a 1.7-percent increase but no step movement. “That’s the year we’re in right now,” said Severance. “They will stay on their current steps.”
The fourth year, there is a 1.97-percent increase on each wage rate for each job classification on the salary schedule, but the move to the next step is delayed. Workers won’t climb a step until Jan. 1 that year.
The bus attendants and food-service workers are in the lowest-paid category. In the old contract, for 2010-11, those on the first step earned $10.42 an hour; under the new contract, those on the first step will earn $10.83.
The food-service workers and bus attendants on the top, or 10th, step under the old contract earned $13.98 an hour; under the new contract, they’ll earn $14.52.
Bus drivers are in the highest-paid category. Under the old contract, drivers on the first step earned $15.03; under the new contract, they’ll earn $15.61 an hour.
Bus drivers on the top step earned $22.04 under the old contract and will earn $22.89 with the new contract.
The three-year contract with the Non-Instructional Supervisors Unit and Other Management Personnel runs from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2016.
Wiles described the unit’s 13 members as folks who routinely go above and beyond to serve the district and save resources.
The unit includes the supervisors of transportation, maintenance, and school lunches, as well as the director of technology, two bus-driver dispatchers, bus-driver trainers, and the assistant supervisor for transportation.
Fraterrigo praised their “tremendous work” and described the group as “the backbone” of the district. “Thank you for stepping up to the plate and helping the district,” she said.
The board ratified the contract by a vote of 8 to 1.
“This is a group that understands the difficulties we face; they’re very involved in the budget process,” Severance said yesterday. “They didn’t ask for a lot. They just hoped for a modest increase…They were very realistic.”
In the first year of the contract, the unit members will get a 2-percent raise, Severance said. In the second year, the increase will be 1.8 percent, and in the third year, 1.6 percent.
Also, as of July 2015, the members will pay 21 percent of their health-insurance costs. Most Guilderland workers pay 20 percent and the district covers the other 80 percent.
According to Severance, the lowest paid member of the group will earn $32,600 in the first year of the contract and $33,700 in the third year.
Similarly, the highest-paid member will earn $103,000 in the first year and $106,800 in the third.
“They did their homework and knew the board’s threshold for increases,” she said.
Asked how their salaries compared with other districts, Severance said it was hard to make such a comparison since job descriptions and titles vary widely, but she concluded, “We’re not the lowest paid; we’re not the highest paid.”
Board member Colleen O’Connell, toward the end of Tuesday’s meeting, thanked Sanders and Severance “for being our negotiating team,” and noted the process for negotiating one of the contracts was “very, very lengthy” and the other was “blissfully short.”