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Ringgold cafeteria workers OK pact

| Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2006

NEW EAGLE - When school begins for students in the Ringgold School District on Monday, children will notice some familiar faces working in the cafeteria.

That's because the district and the union representing the cafeteria workers have agreed on a new 5-year contract.

The old contract between the district and AFL-CIO Local 493, which represents approximately 40 workers, expired June 30.

For a time, the district considered contracting out the work and even sought proposals from outside food service companies.

The decision caused the union to demonstrate outside the district office during the July meeting of the school board.

However, both sides came to a happy medium, said Ringgold School Board President Denise Kuhn.

"They were really willing to work with us and we were willing to work to keep them as employees," Kuhn said. "In the end, the contract was a win-win for everybody."

The new deal calls for wage freezes for the first two years, a 10-cent per hour increase in the third year and a 15-cent per hour increase in the fourth year. There is no wage increase in the final year of the agreement.

In addition, all workers gave up vision and dental coverage even though they will be able to pay for such coverage at a reduced rate.

Also, the approximately 6-to-8 fulltime workers in the union will now have to pay $40 per month for health care, if they wish to have it.

While the contract seems to have not been much of a step forward for the union, Kuhn noted that the agreement will cost the district more than the lowest bidding food service company that sought the district's business.

"Nutrition Inc. was the lowest bidder," Kuhn said of the bids that were sought earlier this summer.

Nutrition Inc. handles the district's cafeteria operations, but does not staff all of the positions.

"Their proposal would have saved the district approximately $90,000 a year compared to this contract.

"However, you don't want to hurt people who have been here a long time and have been good, loyal employees. We're happy we were able to keep them employed."

Kuhn noted that, under terms of the new deal, workers will be able to keep sick days and personal days.

Top-end employees in the union make $13.25 per hour, Kuhn said.

The new contract was agreed to last week during the regular school board meeting after a lengthy executive session.

Kuhn said the agreement was not a hard sell among board members.

"We were trying to find a way to keep them all employed and they wanted to keep their jobs," she said. "It wasn't a tough decision at all."

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