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Bus union still waiting for decision on grievance against Penn Hills schools

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Members of the Penn Hills School District's former bus drivers' union are still waiting for the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board to rule on their labor grievance against the Penn Hills School District.

But the district's refusal to continue bargaining with the union may open it up to an additional unfair labor practice charge, according to state labor and industry officials.

A fact-finder's report, commissioned by the PLRB and issued in the summer of 2011, found that members of Amalgamated Transit Union No. 1552 made what amounted to a fair contract offer to the school district.

Union officials accepted the report, but the school district rejected it.

According to Lindsay Bracale, a press aide with the state Department of Labor and Industry, after the district's rejection of the report, “the only legal requirement is that the parties continue to bargain in good faith.”

Lori Krapf, president of ATU No. 1552, said that has not happened.

“They will not talk to us,” Krapf said.

District officials broke off contract negotiations with the union in May 2011 and opted to hire Cincinnati-based First Student to handle district transportation.

School officials said they needed the deal with First Student to balance the 2011-12 budget in the face of a $3.9 million reduction in state education subsidies.

Members of the union filed a labor grievance with the PLRB, accusing the district of prematurely ending the negotiations.

A PLRB hearing on those charges took place in February 2012 and wrapped up in June 2012.

Union members, some of whom accepted employment offered by First Student when they took over school-district transportation, are awaiting a final ruling.

Bracale said that if the school district and union do not continue to bargain in good faith, “one of the parties involved” — in this case, the union — “could file an unfair (labor) practice charge.”

Krapf said they will wait on a ruling for the original grievance.

“Once they decide on that, then we'll go from there,” she said.

A decision in favor of the union ultimately could be very costly for the district, which would have to reacquire the bus fleet which it sold to First Student.

The district also could potentially be forced not only to re-hire ATU No. 1552 drivers, mechanics and bus aides, but also to provide them nearly two years of back pay.

Bracale said the PLRB has not set a date for the issuance of a final decision on the union's grievance.

The district is facing a roughly $5 million deficit heading into the 2013-14 school year, although business director Rick Liberto has presented a scenario in which that number could be reduced to less than $1 million through staff reductions and a restructuring of the district's 2009 debt.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or pvarine@tribweb.com.

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