One school contract ratified, custodial workers still on hold

March 9, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Union rep calls the process ‘frustrating’

The Issaquah School District’s bus mechanics approved their contract March 4. The contract will go to school board members for final approval March 11.Close to voting on their tentative contract Feb. 24, the district’s maintenance and custodial workers delayed because the final agreement was amiss, union officials said.

Union officials and the district’s attorney negotiated the tentative deal Feb. 10, during an unfair labor practice hearing, said Jason Powell, union representative for the custodial and maintenance workers.

But when the contract came to union officials Feb. 24, it was missing a key component — the retroactive payment for an attendance incentive both sides agreed upon, he said.

The missing part of the deal suspended the vote.

“It made me feel like the rug got pulled out from under us hours before the vote,” Powell said. “We would like to see the district follow through with the agreement that their attorney made on their behalf, so that we can follow through with the offer.”

“I think the tentative agreement was made in good faith by both sides,” said Sara Niegowski, district director of communications. “There was tentative agreement from all that negotiation and it was signed, but now there may be some issues about what one side thought went into that agreement and we’re going to have to figure out how to move on.”

To do that, employees will probably have to vote whether to approve or reject the tentative agreement, Niegowski said.

The toughest part for Powell was that union officials withdrew their unfair labor practice charges as a sign of good faith, he said.

Until the mechanics ratification, both unions had been negotiating with district officials since June. Employees have continued to work, despite their contracts lapsing Aug. 31.

There are 115 custodial and maintenance workers and nine bus mechanics.

Since the beginning, the negotiations have been extremely frustrating, Powell said.

Negotiations have broken down several times, leading both unions’ representatives to file unfair labor practices charges against the district in October. Both unions’ representatives also filed for mediation with state officials.

At issue in negotiations were language changes, such as the length of time disciplinary action stays on employee records, and wages.

In a Feb. 27 e-mail to School Board President Brian Deagle, Powell wrote about his frustrations with Milton Ellis, the district’s employee relations director.

“The insanity with Milton and his mismanagement of these negotiations must stop and I’m asking on behalf of 115 ISD employees for the Board to recommend the District follow through with the agreement,” Powell wrote.

That e-mail was copied to The Press.

“These are our employees that are doing good work in our schools and our community,” Niegowski said. “Our employees need to have a good contract and the district is looking at some pretty unfamiliar economic times ahead, so we also need to be responsible. It is not the ease of the process that is important, it is the result of the process that is important.”

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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