At long last, the Jackson City School District and its classified, non-teaching employees have agreed on the terms of a new labor contract. However, immediately after the meeting, school board members also learned firsthand from one unhappy bus driver why some drivers remain unhappy with the results.
At a special-session meeting on Wednesday evening, Oct. 4, the Jackson City Board of Education voted unanimously to ratify a new three-year contract with the union which represents the district's non-teaching classified employees. This completes the ratification process as members of local chapter 046 of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees voted 40 to 28 on Monday to approve the contract. The union had rejected three previous contract proposals and had even authorized a possible strike at one point.
The new contract covers the three-year period from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2020 and affects a total of 67 bus drivers, cooks, custodians, maintenance personnel, and secretaries. The main sticking point in the negotiations involved issues of compensation and work-day length that pertained to only the bus drivers.
Superintendent Phil Howard says the new contract calls for bus drivers to be paid a guaranteed minimum of 4.25 hours for the daily route, which includes 30 minutes for fueling and pre-servicing buses. This is the major change in the contract as in the past drivers were working under a five-hour minimum pay guarantee.
Howard had pointed out during a previous meeting that 23 of the 27 drivers averaged under five hours a day on the regular routes. The contract specifies any drivers working more than 4.25 hours a day will be paid for that extra time.
Howard also reported that the final contract calls for classified employees to receive 100 percent retroactive pay both in regard to salary and retirement planning salary back to the effective date of the new contract, which is July 1. At one point in the negotiations, the amount of retroactive pay was one of the issues on the negotiating table.
The contract also calls for 3 percent salary hikes each of the three years of the contract and calls for employees to pick up increasing percentage shares of their health-insurance costs, 6 percent in the first year, 7 percent in the second year and 8 percent in the third year.
The final version of the contract also included the following provisions: (1) An additional step added to the salary scheduled; (2) increasing the cooks' allowance for uniforms and shoes to $250; (3) increasing custodians, cleaning persons maintenance and craftsmen allowances for work jeans and shoes to $200; (4) increasing the sick-leave accumulation from 260 days to 285 days; (5) increasing the attendance incentive by $50; (6) changing the attendance incentive from 12-month and 9/10-month employees to 12/10-month and 9-month employees.
After the board had voted to ratify the contract, board member Alyce Smith commented, "I want to thank everybody on both sides for all the work they've done. It had to be a nightmare to get through."
Bus Driver's Lamentations
After Smith's comments, veteran bus driver Barbara Huff spoke up and asked if she could speak. Board President Kim Harless declined permission and explained that "public participation" is not part of the agenda of special-session board meetings. The meeting was then adjourned, but then Smith addressed Huff and said she wanted to hear what she had to say.
An emotional Huff said she realized her statement wouldn't change anything, but that she wanted school leaders to know her feelings and that she feels "cheated" and "penalized" by what has occurred and that "no one had my back."
"I feel I have been misrepresented by the union...I feel I had no voice in this process," Huff stated before turning to her central complaint - the reduction of the 5-hour guaranteed pay for a daily bus route.
"Why is it an issue?" she asked. "Less hours equals less pay. Who else in this room would want to lose dollars in their paychecks?" She declared one has to actually get behind the wheel of a school bus to understand what it takes to be a bus driver. "I feel the board is putting a price on the children's lives."
She concluded by saying the experience and final result is "consuming" and "personal" for her and that she is concerned about having "panic attacks."
"Maybe it's time for me to move on," Huff concluded sadly.
Huff's comments to the board after the meeting prompted a response from Superintendent Howard, who released this statement to the media Thursday afternoon.
"I'm sorry that she feels betrayed and unappreciated, but as I have stated "This is not personal, it's just business." As far as the comment about just wanting to keep their 5 hours, the first tentative agreement allowed the drivers to keep their 5 hours of guaranteed pay in exchange for taking one extra-curricular trip without compensation.
"In many cases this could have been an in-district trip, transporting kids from one building to another or to an athletic event to somewhere like Wellston or Oak Hill. They voted that tentative agreement down or we would have had a new agreement prior to the expiration of the contract.
"This morning, Mr. (Joe) Hemsley and I met with Barb regarding the comments she made about her anxiety and panic attacks and how it is impacting her. This is now a safety issue for those children who are under her care while being transported to and from school. She is no longer driving until further notice. No date for her return has been determined yet because we will want assurance that she is able to return to work without representing a safety threat to the students that she transports.
"I understand that some people are not happy with the outcome of the contract, but at this point, both the union and the BOE have ratified the new contract, so it's now time for both sides to put this behind us and move on and get back to business as normal."