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Union to fight Allegheny Valley School District

| Saturday, March 8, 2003

HARMAR: The union representing Allegheny Valley School District's custodial and maintenance workers filed a grievance Friday with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board over the effects of subcontracting jobs previously performed by union members.

The grievance was filed by the Service Employees International Union Local 585 based in Blawnox, which represents 16 district employees.

Allegheny Valley School District has refused to bargain an open position of daylight groundskeeper as required by the terms of its collective bargaining agreement, according to union representative Dino F. Bruno.

The PLRB now must evaluate the legitimacy of the union's claims and will decide whether to set a hearing date, Bruno said.

Bruno gathered together with about 10 district employees on Friday afternoon to picket quietly at the entrance to Acmetonia Primary School in Harmar.

The groundskeeper position under dispute has been vacant since the retirement of an employee at the beginning of the year, district Business Manager John Zenone said.

Contrary to what the union contends, Zenone said the district has no obligation to retain a job after a person retires.

At its agenda meeting on Monday night, the school board announced that it will vote on March 17 whether to close this position.

The board's decision likely will hinge on the quality of the bids received from private companies for the landscaping maintenance at the district's three campuses and athletic fields, Zenone said.

This work historically has been performed by union employees.

But in January, the school board authorized district administrators to prepare specifications and seek bids for maintenance work to determine if it could save money by using a subcontractor instead, Zenone said. The four bids received were opened on Friday afternoon.

The average union salary is about $48,000 per year including health insurance and pension, according to Zenone. He said the district's benefits costs are expected to skyrocket next year.

"The idea that (the union has) lost a position is just a misunderstanding at this point," Zenone said. "We are just trying to collect information to do the best thing for our constituents."

By filing the grievance, the members of SEIU Local 185 hope they will be able to negotiate what the effects of subcontracting union work would be on the terms and conditions of their employment.

The workers said they are more vested in doing high quality work for the district than a subcontractor would be because they live in the community.

They also fear that the long-term consequence of subcontracting could mean the loss of even more positions.

"We want to maintain these jobs," Bruno said. "They belong to us under contract, and they should remain with the public."

Annetta Jursa, 56, of Springdale, is a graduate of Springdale Junior-Senior High School whose children also attended school at Allegheny Valley.

Jursa joined her fellow custodial workers at the picket lines on Friday for the first time in her 23 years as a groundskeeper for the district. She said that if the position is closed she will be the last remaining person on the staff with the responsibilities of lining the athletic fields and cutting grass.

"They never told us there were any problems with the grounds crew," Jursa said. "It's very insulting to the employees. We've worked really hard."

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