Third pact approved this year for BKW workers

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

The district’s wheels: Driver Bonnie Fugitt washes a Berne-Knox-Westerlo vehicle on June 16. Bus drivers are part of the district’s collective bargaining unit, the Civil Service Employees Association Local 801, that approved a new contract by a vote of 33 to 15.

BERNE — The district’s third and final expired bargaining agreement was settled within the 2013-14 school year, approved without opposition on June 16, the last regular Berne-Knox-Westerlo board meeting for Interim Superintendent Lonnie Palmer.

The new contract with the Civil Service Employees Association Local 801 at BKW includes salary raises, a total one-time payment of $33,150, and increased contributions for health-insurance plans from employees. Palmer expects the agreement will produce a savings of about $106,000, compared to not settling, assuming an insurance increase of 4-percent each year.

Union President Darleen Shrederis, a longtime bus driver at BKW, said members approved the new contract by a vote of 33 to 15.

CSEA is a bargaining unit for non-instructional staff, which was the focus of reductions led by Palmer this year so that more money could be spent on academic instruction. While some non-instructional staff are part of another union, a large portion of the budgeted savings came from five bus runs that won’t be driven next year, though Palmer said they coincided with retirements and didn’t require layoffs.

The union includes workers in transportation, food service, maintenance, and clerical positions. It doesn’t include the business administrator’s secretary, the district’s treasurer, or the superintendent’s secretary.

“I think they’re happy because we finally got some kind of a raise,” Shrederis said of CSEA members at BKW. “We haven’t had a raise in over four years.”

She said the union understood that it couldn’t keep its low health-insurance premiums, which were hurting the district. She wasn’t sure of the reasons why some members voted against the agreement.

“I’m thinking maybe they just didn’t understand, they just didn’t care,” Shrederis said of the dissent.

One of the school board’s main goals for the year — which board member Vasilios Lefkaditis argues were never finalized — was to address the expired contracts, which have been unsettled for several years. The consequence, Palmer has said, is a relaxing of relationships and healthier morale in the district.

“It is a lot of weight off your shoulders,” said Shrederis. “You’re not thinking, when you’re coming back to school, getting back to negotiations again.”

She added, “We can go on with our lives and not worry about it for the next five years.”

She said the CSEA was close to reaching an agreement a year ago, but negotiations were stopped as the fiscal year came to a close.

School board members approved the agreement with four members — Lefkaditis, Chasity McGivern, Earl Barcomb, and Joan Adriance — in favor during the Monday meeting. Gerald Larghe was absent.

After the meeting was adjourned, Shrederis shook members’ hands and thanked them for their votes.

“I’m pleased to report that my numbers yielded something different, in favor of the district,” Lefkaditis said before voting for the contract. “There were quite a few corrections, but they actually worked in our favor this time.”

With votes of 3 to 0, the board had approved contracts with the unions for teachers and for teacher support staff at BKW earlier in the year. Lefkaditis and Larghe abstained from those votes.

Each time, Lefkaditis said he had calculated the costs and savings associated with the contracts over time and came out with a worse outlook than the district’s interim administrators. His requests to hold off on voting, to hold a special meeting for the board, were overruled.

Lefkaditis also voted against a plan to consolidate kitchen operations in the district in order to stop the extra transfers needed to keep food services financially afloat. The change was voted into next year’s budget and will reduce hours for some cafeteria workers, who are CSEA members.

The new contract covers a period from July 2010 to June 2019.

“Sometimes we felt like, when we walked away from the negotiating table, they weren’t even listening to us,” Shrederis said of previous negotiations with the district.

She attributed the difference in communication this time to Palmer and different lawyers, from Girvin & Ferlazzo P.C., which he requested. Picking up where the previous negotiations left off, the CSEA and district began meeting after the teachers’ contract was approved in April.

“We didn’t play that cat-and-mouse game back and forth,” said Shrederis. “We moved very quickly.”

The details

The new contract is supposed to close a lapse of time that sometimes occurs in a late bus route for extracurricular students. It results from a bidding system among bus drivers, where the more senior drivers have earlier choice in the routes they drive. Drivers of longer routes accrue more hours.

A driver who has a long route during the day in addition to the after-school route may not arrive back at the school in time for the second run. Palmer said roughly 200 students wait at the schools in the meantime.

“So what’s happening to those kids since 3:30 — they’re milling around causing trouble for us,” said Palmer.

Next year, Shrederis noted, the late bus is scheduled for 3:30 in the afternoon, 15 minutes earlier than this year. The late bus will be packaged with routes short enough to handle the later run. Bids will still be made by seniority.

Shrederis doesn’t expect the change to bidding will vary the total number of hours for each driver. Drivers can still keep their long regular routes, she said, and extra hours may be accumulated with non-regular routes like field trips and sports games.

Those late and extra bus runs are paid at designated rates, which will increase by 2.6 percent in the next two years, then by 3.1 percent in the following three years.

Similar to the teachers, CSEA’s 51 members at BKW will each get a one-time payment this year — an additional $650 each doesn’t affect the salary schedule. It will be pro-rated for members who work part-time or who didn’t work all of the last four years.

“We wanted to settle this contract in a way that was fair,” Palmer said of what he called a “signing bonus,” meant to address a lack of raises in recent years.

Salary increases in the new contract amount to $525 per year in the next two years, and $600 per year for the following three. The raises are pro-rated for part-time workers.

Dollar amounts were favored because percentages would mean those in the union with smaller salaries would see smaller raises, Palmer said. Union members have salaries ranging from about $10,000 to $50,000.

The contract takes out the stepped salary schedules, which were part of previous agreements, but uses a starting salary schedule based on the current first step and uses the dollar-amount raises.

For members with 15 or more years with the district, longevity raises will increase by 2.6 percent in the first two years, then by 3.1 percent in the following three.

CSEA members will pay more for health insurance. Premiums will be reduced with the introduction of a plan, called Empire Preferred Provider Organization, which is available to all of the members. A PPO is a group of doctors and other health-care providers who offer care at a reduced rate to the insurer’s clients. For any other plans, the members will have to pay for all of the extra expense.

The “nesting” method of calculating employees’ contributions toward the premiums, which essentially inflated the district’s share, is ended by the new contract.

“In other words,” the contract reads, “if the employee contribution towards a dependent insurance (health, prescription, or otherwise) is stated as 15%, then the employee will pay 15% of the total dependent annual premium and not simply a percentage of the difference between the individual and dependent premium.”

Any new employees and, by the end of the contract, those hired after 2004, will pay for 20 percent of the cost of premiums. For those hired before 2004, contributions will rise to 17 percent for two-person or family coverage and 13 percent for individual coverage by the end of the contract.

Current clerical employees are “grandfathered in,” considered pre-2004 workers for the purpose of health-insurance contributions.

Co-pays on prescriptions will change toward savings for the district, too, adding an incentive for members to choose cheaper, generic drugs, similar to a change made in the teachers’ recent contract.

CSEA members will have co-pays of $5 for generic drugs, $20 for preferred, and $35 for non-preferred.

The health-insurance buy-out option, paid to anyone covered by a plan outside of the district, was amended to $3,000 per year.

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