2013-03-29 / Front Page

Contract talks move to mediation

By Michael Kelley Staff Writer

The Scarborough Board of Education and the Scarborough Education Association will move to mediation next month after failing to negotiate a new contract for custodians and food workers.

After a series of proposals and counter proposals, negotiations for a new contract stalled earlier this month, forcing the topic to progress from negotiations to mediation with a representative from the Maine Labor Relations Board.

The custodians and food service employees have been working without a contract since July 1, 2012, when their three-year contract expired. As a result of the impasse, the two groups will head to mediation in late April.

Negotiations on a new contract began last spring, but Crystal Goodrich, president of the Scarborough Education Association, said the issue was compounded when the school board expressed its interest in saving upwards of $300,000 in custodial costs, potentially by outsourcing the work.

“We met as an association and came up with a cost-savings plan by reorganizing the staff, decreasing staff numbers and decreasing what we felt was overcoverage at events,” said Goodrich, an occupational therapist at Wentworth Intermediate School.

Jackie Perry, chairman of the Board of Education’s negotiation committee, said she could not discuss specifics about the negotiations, but did acknowledge both groups are working hard to reach an agreement.

“Our proposal was not accepted by them and their proposal did not meet all of our requirements, so we came to an impasse,” Perry said.

“They spent a great deal of time on it,” she went on to say. “We acknowledge that, but it was not sustainable. It was a one-shot sort of thing. The board has to look at long-term solutions.”

Goodrich said the board countered with a proposal that would reduce the average pay for custodians from $14 an hour to $10 an hour and drastically reduce the amount the district would pay for health insurance. While pay would remain the same for food service employees, the benefits offered would also be drastically cut.

That counter proposal, Goodrich said, was strongly rejected by the association, which also represents teachers, support staff and bus drivers.

“Our goal is to preserve and save the jobs of the people who are working in our bargaining unit,” Goodrich said. “We have to prevent their pay being cut and their benefits from being cut.”

Josh Collins, a custodian at Blue Point Primary School who has worked in the district for four years, said he wished the two sides were closer to an agreement.

“I wish we could come closer to a real agreement — something we could both live with rather than completely decimating a whole department,” he said.

The board’s proposal, Goodrich said, is so severe that the district may have a problem retaining custodial and food service employees.

If the cuts are put into place, Deb Bean, who has worked in the district for 12 years, said she would be forced to look elsewhere for work.

“I probably would have to leave. I wouldn’t be making enough to live. I need my health insurance,” said Bean, who had a brain tumor removed last year and needs health insurance to make sure the tumor doesn’t return.

All she is asking for, she said, is a “livable wage, so we can afford to eat and for other necessities.”

The end result could have detrimental effects on food service workers as well.

“They are making such drastic cuts to our health insurance that they are in danger of putting the program in jeopardy because the dedicated staff we have won’t be able to stay,” said Cathy Cook, the nutrition manager for the high school and middle school.

Unlike classroom teachers, Cook said food service employees see the entire student body on a daily basis.

“The cafeteria staff is one of the few staff groups that sees all the children throughout the day. They have built relationships with the kids,” Cook said. “They notice when children aren’t eating. They notice when children don’t have money for lunch.”

Goodrich said the association understands the board is in a tough position.

“Everyone knows the school budget is always an issue,” she said. “It is a much larger issue this year because of the governor’s cuts and the other needs the schools have for long-term reinvestment.”

She said the custodians and food service employees have the support of their colleagues in the schools.

“Our teachers strongly support both groups. They don’t want to lose the custodians or food service employees,” Goodrich said. “They are very concerned.”

“A lot of us have been here a while. (The students and staff) know us. They know what we do. They know what we don’t do,” said Bean, a custodian at Scarborough Middle School. “We are a familiar face. To me that would be a big plus. You won’t get that by bringing someone in.”

Collins agreed that interaction would be lost with outsourcing.

“If they did go with outsourcing, it would bring in 20 to 30 completely new individuals into the schools. They would be strangers to the kids, parents and teachers,” said Collins, who works the 3 to 11 p.m. shift at Blue Point Primary School.

Collins said custodians ensure students have a safe and healthy environment while they are school.

“We have a lot of interaction with the kids,” he said. “That is what it is really about — the kids. We are here for the kids, working to keep them safe and happy.”

Cook said both custodians and food service workers play an important role in children’s overall school experience.

“If a child is hungry they can’t learn and if a child is not in a clean environment, they won’t stay healthy,” Cook said.

The issue, Perry said, is about saving money and not in response to the job custodians or food service workers have done.

“These folks do a good job,” Perry said. “I hate to put people in jeopardy because of money.”

That being the case, Perry said, it is a “no-win situation”

“These people have contributed and have been a part of our school community, but this is where the rubber meets the road and the school board members need to make a horrible decision,” Perry said.

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