Bethel Park to vote on bus report
By Matthew Santoni
Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
The Bethel Park School Board will vote on Wednesday on whether to accept a fact-finder's report and set a new contract with its 79 bus drivers, mechanics and bus aides, or reject it in favor of a bid by First Student to take over the district's student transportation.
According to the fact-finding report released on Monday, the district proposed:
• Eliminating sick leave, personal leave or emergency time off for members of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 84.
• Defining a full-time employee as working more than 30 hours a week, but giving the district the option to subcontract bus runs for special events or trips that would lead drivers to work more than 29 hours.
• Replacing all sick days and up to four weeks of vacation time for the most senior members with a flat 10 days of “paid time off” for all members.
The report, formally issued on April 29, gave both parties 10 days to accept or reject it before its public release. Afterward, parties have up to 10 additional days to make a formal decision.
The district took no action on the report during the initial decision period — which counts as a rejection. It still could vote to accept the report as a basis for a new contract. A special meeting had originally been called for Thursday, but was canceled so the board could take action at its regularly scheduled meeting.
The union accepted the fact-finder's report during the initial review period, and officials did not anticipate members changing their minds.
“We've reviewed the report and accepted that; we don't see any reason to change,” said Richard Caponi, director of AFSCME District Council 84.
Superintendent Nancy Rose and district officials declined to comment on the report until the meeting.
The district's proposed preamble to the contract stated that it had gotten a bid from Cincinnati-based First Student to provide transportation services, and that the district could accept that offer if negotiations with the union hit an impasse or if 10 percent of the employees in the 79-member union quit during the term of the contract.
State-appointed fact-finder Michelle Miller-Kotula sided with the union in rejecting that part of the district's proposal, along with the proposal to subcontract any work in excess of 29 hours a week.
Rather than paying overtime rates for any work in excess of eight hours a day, the district would follow other laws that require overtime pay for any work in excess of 40 hours a week.
The district's budget for transportation in the 2012-13 school year — with the drivers, mechanics and aides still working under the terms of a contract that expired in 2011 — was $4.2 million. District officials declined to comment on the cost and terms of First Student's bid.
The union had proposed a six-year contract with a wage freeze the first three years, and slight annual increases in the three years after that.
The district had countered by proposing pay cuts for mechanics and drivers — drivers would go from making between $12.90 and $20.74 an hour to a flat $12.50 an hour for the 2013-14 school year regardless of experience, with a 10-cent raise each year after that.
The fact-finder recommended a rate schedule that would freeze wages for the two years since the last contract expired and the next year, then give a 1.5 percent increase for 2014-15.
The report also recommended the district and the union study the possibility of changing to a paid-time-off system, rather than separate pools of vacation, sick time and personal days.
The Penn Hills School District went through a similar process in its negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union No. 1552 several years ago. The district broke off negotiations in 2011 and went through with a plan to sell its buses to First Student, but the union filed a grievance with the state claiming the district had not continued to bargain in good faith.
A ruling has not been made in that case, but if the state Labor Relations Board sides with the union, the district might have to hire back its drivers and purchase back its buses.
Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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