WEA-S NEGOTIATIONS UPDATE
11/29/12 - Press Release: Support Staff Union Presents Regressive Proposal in a Disappointing Negotiation Session
A state-mandated negotiation session on behalf of support staff between the Wissahickon School District and the Wissahickon Education Alliance (WEA) ended on a discouraging note when the union defaulted to its March 26, 2012 proposal - a proposal which predated a fact-finder's report which the union had accepted when it was received in June, 2012.
The evening session consisted of separate meetings with two state mediators, followed by the mediators shuttling back and forth between rooms, because of the union’s refusal to meet face-to-face with the School Board's negotiating team.
During the evening, the Board negotiator submitted a document which demonstrated the savings to be realized by the District if it outsourced two types of teaching aide positions – classroom aides and child-specific aides. According to the District’s data, the District would save over $1.1 million per year by outsourcing these two positions since costs associated with health benefits, PSERS and other employment related costs would be eliminated. The negotiator also shared a document which showed how the District could save $382,608 in salaries and benefits per year by outsourcing its bus driving services.
“It had been our hope that the sharing of these figures would demonstrate how expensive the WEA contract is and it clearly shows them that compromise is needed on their end to prevent the exploration of other options,” explained chief negotiator Jeffrey Sultanik. “The numbers are particularly problematic because the union moved from the fact finder’s recommendation of 2.5% per year increases to their original proposal of 4% per year. We remain hopeful that the association will rethink its negotiation position and recognize that they are going down a path that could possibly be putting the job security of its employees at risk by maintaining its positions.”
According to Sultanik, other school districts are carefully evaluating outsourcing options for support staff positions, and Wisshickon has the fiscal responsibility to do the same. “By our calculations, the union members who serve as Child Specific Assistants and Special Education Assistants would need to come up with approximately $16,000 per member in concessions to convince us that outsourcing is not a financially sound option for the District."
Instead of presenting concessions, the WEA indicated that its March 26, 2012 proposal was back in play - a proposal which was nullified by its acceptance of the fact-finders proposal. According to Sultanik, this action is grounds for the filing of an unfair labor practice.
With no contract settlement in sight, talks will resume on December 6, 2012.
As negotiations continue, updates will be posted by the District at www.wsdweb.org
10/26/12 - Press Release: Wissahickon School District Support Staff Strike Averted
October 26, 2012…The Wissahickon School Board’s efforts to force a bargaining session on the Wissahickon Education Alliance - Support (WEA-S) with the hopes of averting an October 29th support staff strike has worked; the work stoppage is now cancelled.
While the School Board’s original intention was to meet with the WEA and state mediator John Cairnes yesterday afternoon, when the WEA-S did not show up for the meeting, an alternative plan was developed with the support of Pennsylvania Director William Gross, of the Department of Labor and Industry. Under the new negotiation plan, the WEA-S has agreed to cancel Monday’s work stoppage and commit to a 45-day “cooling off period” during which no job action would occur. A November 29th session has been scheduled and both the School Board’s chief negotiator and negotiators for the WEA-S have agreed to attend.
"We teach our children to compromise, to work through their issues," stressed School Board President Young Park. "In agreeing to cancel its work stoppage I am hopeful that this is a sign that the WEA-S recognizes the importance of compromise as well.”
The Wissahickon School Board had planned to use today’s negotiation session to collaborate with union leaders to bridge the $1.8 million dollar cost. "The union continues to push for a plan which provides full-time benefits to employees who only work 4-hours a day. It is an incredibly costly plan that Wissahickon and its taxpayers cannot entertain," explained chief negotiator Jeffrey Sultanik. “The School Board is hopeful that the WEA-S uses the time between now and our November 29th session to craft a realistic plan for reaching a settlement.”
As negotiations continue, updates will be posted by the District at www.wsdweb.org.
10/24/2012 - Update on Negotiations with Support Staff
As of today, the union leadership has not responded to the District’s repeated requests to schedule a bargaining session.
10/22/12 - Official Strike Notice Presented to the Superintendent and the School Board at the 10/22 Board Meeting
10/22/12 - Statement Of Wissahickon School Board Regarding The Wissahickon Support Staff Negotiations And The Intention Of The Board To Solicit Proposals To Subcontract Various Non-Professional Services In The District
The Wissahickon School Board is aware that many of you have come to tonight’s meeting to voice your concern about the status of negotiations between the School Board and our Support Staff Union, and to express concerns about the School Board resolving to solicit proposals for various non-professional services to be done by outside vendors.
Since the 2008 economic collapse, the Wissahickon School District has been sustaining challenges to its economic sustainability. In particular, the District has been required to fund a more expensive health benefit program and to fund geometrically increasing State retirement system benefits in order to fund our State’s underfunded retirement system. These healthcare and retirement benefits far exceed the types of benefits that most of our taxpayers receive working for non-governmental bodies. In fact, Support Staff Union Members who work only 4 hours per day are eligible to receive our very rich health benefit program.
Complicating things is that in 2006, the Pennsylvania State Legislature has capped the ability of school districts in Pennsylvania to raise taxes beyond a specified index (the Act 1 index). In 2006, the Act 1 index was 4.9%, but that index has plummeted to the current 1.7% amount that is in effect for the 2013-2014 budget year. This elected Board is faced with a very difficult dilemma. On the one hand, it seeks to provide its employees with fair wages and benefits and on the other hand, it needs use prudence in not incurring expenditures that exceed the Act 1 index. If that were the case, namely, if the Board would consistently commit to expenditures that exceed new revenue, the Board would eat into its fund balance and endanger the sustainability and economic viability of this District. This Board has pledged not to have that happen and it believes it has a fiduciary obligation to ensure that the District remains sustainable in the future even in light of the extreme costs we are facing. The District cannot simply continue to do business the same way when its costs for retirement have increased from $0.02 on every wage dollar to as much as $0.26 on every wage dollar that the District will be spending within the next few years.
Indeed, we ask this community that is not employed by this District the following questions:
- How many of you are paid at the top of your industry? As you might be aware, our support staff is paid among the top school districts in Montgomery County, which have historically been the top paying school districts in the State.
- How many of you in this community are eligible to receive a health benefit program after only working 4 hours per day or 20 hours per week? This is not only unheard of in the private sector; it is unheard of amongst our comparison school districts.
- How many of our taxpayers will be prepared to pay for the $1,875,000.00 cost and forget about all of the other needed expenditures of the District?
- How many of you believe that it is prudent to completely ignore the potential cost savings in subcontracting services (transportation, secretarial, custodial, and the like) simply because we have always done our business using our employees in this way?
As for our negotiations with the Support Staff Union, those negotiations began in January 2012. As we have placed on the website, the Union representing our valued support staff has refused to meet face-to-face other than on one occasion that preceded a Fact Finding process that took place in May 2012. Typically, prior to going to Fact Finding, the parties at the bargaining table attempt to narrow down issues and then resort to a third party to make a decision. In this case, that did not happen as direct result of the tactics being used by the Union’s business agent, Drew Muir. He simply went straight to Fact Finding, and then after the Fact Finding process when most unions and boards use the Fact Finding process as a framework to attempt to get to a settlement, the Union dropped the ball and indicated that it would not meet over the summer.
It was not until the end of September that the Union attempted to resurrect the Fact Finder’s Recommendation that contains many provisions that no longer have applicability. The Recommendation, for example, recommended an early retirement incentive that would have potentially saved the District some money if retirements would have taken place by August 1, 2012. That has long since past.
The only way to work these types of issues out is not to come to a Board demonstration at a public meeting but to come to the bargaining table.
Indeed, the Board’s negotiator and the Board have invited the Union on many occasions to come to the bargaining table and, in fact, invited the Union to come yesterday to a bargaining session. The Board’s negotiator also invited Mr. Muir to have the State Mediator develop a Mediator’s Proposal to resolve our differences. Mr. Muir continues to be silent and refuse that approach.
Mr. Muir has consistently refused to come to a bargaining session and merely insists that the Board’s only choice is to accept this now stale Fact Finder’s Recommendation. The Union’s position makes no sense and is inconsistent with the most basic of bargaining principles.
This morning, the District’s labor counsel has filed an Unfair Labor Practice against the Support Staff Union as the result of its failing to bargain in good faith in this process and refusing to come to bargaining sessions. A copy of that Unfair Labor Practice Charge is available for community review.
As the result of the Union’s strategy, the Board will not consider revoting on the stale Fact Finder’s Recommendation and at a minimum, seeks to have a bargaining session to resolve our differences.
We have reason to believe that the Union has taken a strike vote last Thursday and now seeks to go on strike sometime this week.
Who will get hurt as the result of this strike? The answers are as follows:
- First and foremost, our most fragile students will get hurt. Students who need one-on-one services because of their IEPs or Section 504 plans will be deprived of those services or have different individuals providing those services during the course of a work stoppage.
- Our parents and students will be deprived of the transportation to and from school and to and from our vocational school and other programs that are necessary. Many of our community member’s work and this will pose a serious imposition upon them.
- Parents of non-public students will be deprived of transportation services, which will also place hardships on the many families in our community.
- Our buildings will not be cleaned at the level that we expect.
- Our administrators will have to devote time to providing specialized services for students and assisting on bus service instead of dealing with broader building-based curricular and other issues that are necessary for the delivery of our educational program.
We are frankly at a complete loss why the Union is being led on this terrible path of confrontation instead of sitting down like adults and negotiating a successor Contract. Stonewalling and refusing to bargain will not get this Union anywhere and will not get our community anywhere.
As for the Board’s resolution to solicit proposals, we have read a few emails and/or communications that express a concern that the District is going to subcontract Bargaining Unit services. That is by no means a guarantee and we are simply soliciting proposals to see the difference in costs between delivering the services using an outside vendor versus using our own District employees. We may indeed find out that our current costs are competitive with the private sector.
Under Pennsylvania law, we cannot subcontract Bargaining Unit services unless we negotiate face-to-face with the Union to impasse over that prospect. We will need to talk with the Union face-to-face over this issue and it cannot automatically happen.
We suggest that all of the hysteria be put aside and that we address this issue as professionals should address it – we should sit down and bargain a resolution instead of dealing with a now defunct Fact Finder’s Recommendation, and then threatening a work stoppage without even having had intelligent discussions at the bargaining table.
The net effect of this will hurt our children, as well as the support staff who will lose pay and will have to pay for benefits during the course of a work stoppage. It is our sincere hope that the Union will, at the very least, come to the table to begin the dialogue which is in the best interest of the students and community of the Wissahickon School District.
10/19/12 – Negotiations Update / Correspondence From Chief Negotiator (WSD) Jeffrey Sultanik to Andrew Muir, Chief Negotiator for WEA-S (Support Staff)
Please be advised once again that my firm has been appointed as Chief Negotiator on behalf of the Wissahickon School District in conjunction with negotiating a successor Contract with the Union. According to information that we have received, WEA-S has taken a strike authorization vote and WEA-S intends to engage in a work stoppage on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of next week, unless the Board accepts Tim Brown's Fact Finder's Recommendation of May 2012.
I need to tell you that I am quite perplexed about the game plan that you have recommended to WEA-S. As you know, the parties have not met face-to-face for approximately 6 months to negotiate a successor Contract. The last substantive activity regarding negotiations involved the Fact Finder's Recommendation, which was rejected by the Board at the end of May 2012. Further, as a practical matter, neither the Board nor the Union could accept the Fact Finder's Recommendation in its current form because a number of the provisions in the Fact Finder's Recommendation have lapsed. For example, the early retirement incentive called for a one-time exception contingent upon a 10 person minimum participation that the District would offer retirement to those who had a minimum of 10 years completed service if retirement occurs by August 1, 2012. By virtue of the passage of time, that cannot happen unless we negotiate an alternate early retirement incentive plan. Further, many of the provisions in the Fact Finder's Recommendation create a second tier provision effective July 1, 2012, for new employees who are hired on or after that date. That impacts fringe benefits for part-time employees, such as life insurance, vacation, long-term disability, bereavement leave, personal leave, tuition reimbursement, and the like. As a practical matter, if the Union made itself available over the summer, we could have possibly negotiated changes to the Recommendation. However, as it stands right now, neither party could accept the Fact Finder's Recommendations that would be incapable of implementation based upon the effective or trigger dates lapsing.
As you know, I wrote you an email on October 5, 2012, at 3:34 p.m. requesting a face-to-face bargaining session under the auspices of State Mediator John Cairns. You never proposed to attend a face-to-face bargaining session in response to this email. A copy of my October 5, 2012, email is attached as Exhibit "A."
On October 9, 2012, at 11:15 a.m., State Mediator John Cairns responded about his availability on October 23, November 5, November 7, November 8, November 14, and November 15. He communicated to both of us to schedule a session. A copy of Mr. Cairns' email is attached as Exhibit "B."
On October 9, 2012, at 1:53 p.m., I responded about my availability on October 23, November 5, November 8, November 14, and November 15. A copy of my response is attached as Exhibit "C." You never had the courtesy to respond to Mr. Cairns' availability.
This was also followed up by another email on October 9, 2012, at 2:37 p.m. confirming the District's availability. A copy of that email is attached as Exhibit "D."
On October 11, 2012, I received your letter of October 9, 2012, which states, in part: "... The School Board must vote to accept the compromise report [Fact Finder's Recommendation] on or before its October 22, 2012, public meeting." A copy of your October 9, 2012, communication is attached as Exhibit "E."
On October 11, 2012, at 2:45 p.m., I wrote you an email indicating that the District did indeed share all of your communications regarding the negotiations with me in advance of my email requesting a face-to-face bargaining session under the auspices of State Mediator John Cairns. I further informed you that "neither you nor the Union you represent has the right to dictate to the Board of School Directors that it 'must vote' on an already rejected Fact Finder's Report issued by New Jersey resident Timothy Brown ..." I also informed you that the Board is not at all moved by Fact Finder Brown's analysis and justifications for his recommendations, particularly with respect to benefit eligibility and salary. There are currently 56 Bargaining Unit Members who work for the District and receive the District's rich benefit plan provisions by only working on average 4 hours per day or 20 hours per week. This is unheard of amongst most comparable school districts in the region and certainly virtually non-existent in the private sector. I then informed you of our need to talk about these issues and suggested once again that we are at impasse but we should have a face-to-face bargaining session. A copy of my October 11, 2012, email to you is attached as Exhibit "F."
I wrote to you again on October 15, 2012, at 10:37 p.m. requesting your team availability for a bargaining session prior to October 22, 2012. You did not have the courtesy to respond to either me or John Cairns. A copy of my October 15, 2012, email to you is attached as Exhibit "G."
In addition, I contacted the State Mediator to also reach out to you directly to schedule a bargaining session. I have heard nothing from John Cairns regarding your availability.
According to our calculations, the District and the Union you represent are approximately $1.875 million apart. This is so significant that the Board needs to explore with other vendors the ability to provide services in an Act 1 environment at a lesser cost. I already put you on notice of the potential for subcontracting of Bargaining Unit services that needs to be bargained under State law.
Given your "game plan," the District will make itself available either Sunday afternoon or evening for a bargaining session to at least assess the differences in our positions and potential strategies to limit or reduce our Issues in Dispute. Going on strike will only hurt the students of this District and will only cause the membership you represent to lose salary and their aliquot portion of benefit costs during the work stoppage, regardless of its duration. They will never be able to make up their losses.
Are you prepared to justify to your membership and to the Wissahickon community that you are going on strike without even having reached out for a bargaining session for 6 months and without even responding to the requests of the District to conduct a bargaining session prior to your contemplated strike action? I would maintain that there is no way you will be able to justify this and you will be leading your membership down a path of no success.
In the event that you fail to respond to this communication, I have the authorization of the District to file an Unfair Labor Practice with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board as the result of your clear failure to "bargain in good faith" with the District. We have exercised efforts beyond that I have ever seen to have the Union come to a bargaining session. In looking at the Issues in Dispute, there are a number of issues that I believe we can reach agreement. I also believe that if the parties were willing to talk to each other that we could potentially resolve this impasse. Stonewalling will only result in an Unfair Labor Practice and what I perceive to be a serious black eye for your Union and you.
By way of this email, I am copying Mr. Herring, PSEA Mideast Region counsel, to put him on notice of our intention to file an Unfair Labor Practice.
Please let us know one way or another if you are going to be coming to a bargaining session with your bargaining team prepared to bargain on Sunday. We can talk about logistics and time of the session if you indicate your consent to appearing.
Jeffrey T. Sultanik
Attorney at Law
Fox Rothschild LLP
10 Sentry Parkway, Suite 200
P. O. Box 3001
Blue Bell, PA 19422-3001
610.397.6515 - direct
215.582.0714 - cell
610.397.0450 - fax
10/17/12 - Negotiations Statement
- The support staff union requested the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board (PLRB) to appoint a fact-finder to make non-binding recommendations on the issues in dispute that separated the board and the union. The PLRB appointed a New Jersey resident, Timothy Brown, to act as the fact-finder in the support staff negotiations. A Fact-Finding Hearing was held on May 10, 2012 and the non-resident fact-finder issued his recommendations on May 21, 2012. The parties advised the PLRB that the Union accepted the report and the Board rejected the report on May 30, 2012.
- The District Administration will separately create a link to the precise issues in dispute that currently separate the parties.
- Even though the fact-finding report contained a number of potentially acceptable recommendations, there were three major issues that the School Board could not accept. They include:
- Benefits for employees who work less than six hours per day; and
- Seniority for Child Specific Special Education Aides.
- The Fact-Finder suggested wage increases of 2.5% during the 2012-2013 school year, 2.5% during the 2013-2014 school year, 2.5% during the 2014-15 school year. These increases did not include the ever-increasing state retirement system (PSERS) contributions. On the other hand, the District offered 0% (wage freeze) in the 2012-2013 school year, 1.1% in the 2013-2914 school year, and the Act 1 base level index percentage number with a range of 1% to 2% in the 2014-2015 school year. The Board’s objections to these raises are that most Wissahickon hourly rates for support staff employees that are set forth below are among the highest wage rates in Montgomery County and the region. The School Board is seeking a fair agreement on wages that is economically responsible to the taxpayers of the district. The additional cost of the PSERS retirement costs are as follows; $152,000 in 2012/13, $182,000 in 2013/14 and $190,000 in 2014/15.
- Current hourly rates (exclusive of PSERS retirement costs or costs of benefits) for support staff are as follows:
- School Nurses and Security Officer: $24.69/hr
- Payroll Coordinator/Mechanics/Communication Specialist: $23.79/hr.
- Bus Drivers/Bookkeeper/Technology Assistant/Special Ed Assistants: $22.72/hr.
- AP Clerk/Secretary/Ground Crew: $21.74/hr.
- Clerk Typists/Van Drivers/Receptionists/Library Assistants: $20.76/hr.
- Custodians: $19.78/hr.
- Bus Assistants/Lunchtime Assistants: $18.80/hr.
- The Board seeks to eliminate eligibility for costly medical benefits for part-time employees who are regularly scheduled to work less than six hours per day or thirty hours per week, which is the same hourly eligibility requirement that is in the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care). The District has numerous support staff employees who regularly work less than six hours per day, but who have full benefits. The Board currently pays costs totaling $3,127,171 for medical premium charges for support staff employees under the existing Personal Choice and Flex plans. Other comparable school districts either do not provide health benefits or require substantial additional employee contributions for employees who work less than 25 hours per week. If eliminated, the district would save approximately $380,000 per year of the contract.
- Even though the Union is arguing to the community that the parties are not far apart on wages, an actual calculation of the Fact Finder’s Report reveals that the parties are still miles apart. According to the District’s calculations, the parties are $1.872 million dollars apart as of October 2012.
- The District has made repeated attempts to work with the State Mediator to schedule a bargaining session, but the Union negotiator, Mr. Drew Muir, has failed to respond to any and all inquiries on the subject. The parties have not met since the issuance of the Fact Finder’s Report. Because of the Union’s absolute refusal to even respond to District inquiries requesting a face-to-face bargaining session, as well as the inquiries of the State Mediator, the District may be compelled to file an Unfair Labor Practice with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board because of the support staff’s clear refusal to bargain in good faith. This matter will not be resolved by protests; it will only be resolved by face-to-face negotiations.
- At the next School Board meeting scheduled for October 22, 2012, the union has advised the Board President that they will be demanding a re-vote on the Fact-Finder’s Recommendations. State law dictates the voting procedures on a Fact Finder’s Report and the Wissahickon School District observed all of those procedures in June, 2012. There is no intention on the part of the District to revote on the Fact Finder’s Report at the October 22nd Board Meeting. The fact-finding process is over, with the only implication being that the union has modified its position by accepting the recommendations of the Fact Finder.
- It is the District’s position that instead of engaging in protests at a School Board meeting, the time would have been far better spent in attending a face-to-face bargaining session designed to limit the issues in dispute.
6/6/12 - Negotiations Statement
This report is made to the Wissahickon School District community on the status of labor negotiations involving the support staff in our School District over the last five months. The existing collective bargaining agreement is still in effect and does not expire until June 30, 2012. The key issues which have been subject to negotiation include wages, medical coverage costs, whether part-time employees should receive benefits and maintaining District discretion in the selection of appropriate staff to support various disabled students.
These negotiations have most recently involved the fact-finding process and the issuance of a report by a state-appointed fact finder from outside the District. The Fact Finder’s report contains some valuable recommendations on certain issues. However, the Fact Finder’s recommendations regarding a few of the key issues, specifically wages, benefits for part-time employees and forced seniority for special educational child specific aides, are not appropriate. These issues require further discussion by the Board’s team and the Union’s team. The Board gave fair consideration to the fact-finding report, but had no choice but to reject the report due to these issues of concern.
The School Board continues to recognize the importance of establishing support staff wages over the next three school years in a way that is consistent with comparable market conditions, is fair to the involved employees and is economically responsible to the taxpayers of the District. Hourly rates of support staff positions are at or among the highest hourly rates for the same or comparable positions among Montgomery County School Districts. The School Board has proposed a wage freeze in year one of the contract. Wage freezes have occurred in many school districts throughout Pennsylvania. Wage freezes have also occurred in our District. The Wissahickon professional staff accepted a salary freeze in year one of their most recent contract. The District Superintendent, Judith M. Clark, accepted and is subject to a salary freeze between December 1, 2011 and November 30, 2012.
One of the key issues in these negotiations is whether employees who regularly work part-time hours should receive the valuable benefits that are earned by full-time employees. Numerous support staff employees in the District regularly work less than six hours per day. These employees have received substantial fringe benefits in the past without regularly working the same amount of hours as full-time employees. Other comparable local school districts impose some restrictions on the provision of certain benefits to employees who work limited hours per week.
The Board is not agreeable to the request that special education 1:1 aides be entitled to seniority. The Board opposes this request primarily because it is not in the best interest of the special education students of the District. The application of forced seniority disregards the needs of the special education student.
During the period between January 2012 and today, the District negotiations team and the members of our Board of School Directors have been working on ways that we can reach a fair contract with the support staff that is appropriate in light of the challenging economic factors that public school districts, including Wissahickon, clearly face. These challenging economic factors include the Act I index, substantially increased District retirement system contributions, steadily increasing annual healthcare costs and dramatic decreases to District tax revenue due to declining property values. Each of these factors will play a role in whatever contract agreement is reached between the District and the Union.
The School Board has been at all times and remains committed to negotiating a fair and competitive contract with its support staff and one which is economically responsible to the taxpayers of the District. It is our sincere hope that our support staff understands the economic challenges facing our District, both now and in coming years.
5/21/12 - Fact Finding Report Issued