Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Standing on the sidelines changes nothing — TE School District aides and paras taking steps to unionize

collective bargainIt’s official, the aides and paraeducators of TE School District are taking the necessary steps to unionize. As announced by Supt. Dan Waters at last night’s Finance meeting, this group of employees is currently engaged in the process to join the collective bargaining unit TENIG (Tredyffrin Easttown Non-Instructional Group).

If you recall last spring, the District’s aides and paras came very close to having their jobs outsourced over the Federal government’s Affordable Care Act. Because of ACA compliance issues, it appeared that the District would be forced to either offer insurance or outsource the jobs of the aides and paras. At that time, the Board claimed that the District could not afford healthcare for these employees and could not risk the possible financial risks for ACA noncompliance. As a point of record, the TE School District is the only school district in the area that does not offer healthcare coverage for this group of employees.

Unfortunately, without the benefit of a collective bargaining organization there was little that the aides and paras could do to fight back against the proposed outsourcing of their jobs. In the end, the Federal government pushed off the required ACA compliance for another year. As a result, the School Board granted the District aides and paras a reprieve for the 2013/14 school year; their jobs and hours remaining intact for one more year.

As the current school year ends, what has changed for the District aides and paras during the last twelve months – are they any better off than they were a year ago? Based on their moving forward with plans to collective bargain, my guess is the answer to that question is ‘no’ – nothing has changed.

Without job security and healthcare benefits, the aides and paras are now seeking protection of their jobs and collective bargaining representation for their own jobs and for the jobs of those that will come after them. They seek fairness and consistency in employment policies and personnel decision, job security and protection of employee rights.

The community respects the passion and commitment of the aides and paraeducators to the parents and children of this District and values their contributions. It saddens me that this group of vulnerable, dedicated employees remains the school district pawns, at the mercy of the Board and the administration.

Supporting the need for an organized voice, the District aides and paras believe that all employees deserve fair and equal treatment. Standing on the sidelines changes nothing — I applaud the collective bargaining efforts of the aides and paras.; they deserve to be treated as full players not as an afterthought.

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  1. The timing of this effort could back fire. Can all of this be wrapped up and tied with a pretty bow by Friday 6/20? The reason I ask is that 6/20 is the date that our yearly contracts end. We are all yearly contractual employees. The end of June we get a letter stating that there is “reasonable assurence that a position will be available in the fall”. Then in August a letter (AKA “Contract”) comes offering a position, the school and the salary with the benefits (yes paid time off, sick days and paid holidays are a benefit). Who’s to say that the district will now simple not mail out those assurance letters. Or better yet, send them out but then outsource over the summer and no letters come in August. Who has the upper hand here? I know there is an outlined timeframe for the union stuff but who’s to say the district won’t drag their feet and stall until after the yearly contracts are up 6/20? I fear the aides/paras have done themselves a disservice. Maybe they should have waited until the fall with more time on their side. Remember the ACA requirement was put off another year. The cat’s out of the bag.

    1. I agree with paraprofessional. If all us aides/paras or professionals took this job knowing we did not have the benefits of health of insurance, why are we crying now and if other schools in the area offer health benefits maybe they should have applied at one of those schools. I was upset at the end of last year because the communication was lacking with the district. It really should not come as a surprise what went down last year because each year for the last couple of years staff has been decreasing. Spanish and applied tech in elementary schools, library aides district wide and at one point talk of music, gym or art have all been on the districts list for getting rid of things. I feel some aides got really upset on how they handled our time clock issues and the next thing you know there is talk of a union. Maybe we should have discussed at the beginning of this year or should have waited until we see what the district is going to offer for the next school before any talk of union. I hope it doesn’t back
      fire and hope that no matter what we all can work together no matter what the outcome is. I have nothing bad to say
      about a union, but I new when I took the job what was being offered when I was hired.

    2. good points, Para.. the aides and paras can be in the union with no jobs.. Even if they or you unionize “in time”, who is to say this group of unionized employees will be offered jobs>? there are a lot of questions. Maybe some answers tomorrow?

  2. Dear Paraprofessional,
    The election date is set by the PA Labor Relations Board. We have a meeting tomorrow, Thursday, May 15th at 4 pm. The meeting is at Keene Hall, Tredyffrin Township Building (1100 Duportail Road, Berwyn). At this meeting, open to ANY and ALL T/E aides/paras, we can specifically discuss your question(s) and any others. Thank you

  3. Wow, Paraprofessional, thanks so much for your glass-half-empty view of your colleagues’ position – if you are, in fact, a paraprofessional, and not someone who was “urged” by the Administration or certain members of the School Board to comment on CM.

    Many aides and paras stuck their necks out and signed cards calling for a union vote. In truth, they had little to lose given their precarious position. But there is no valid reason why a vote to join TENIG can’t be held before June 20. None.

    Before the School Board sics Mr. Sultanik on this valued group and threatens to outsource all of them , they (SB) should consider the very vocal dissent that will come from parents whose children depend on the classroom support the aides and paras provide every day. You can’t outsource these jobs and find reliable, committed, well-educated replacements. You’ll get a very different caliber of employee in close contact with some of the District’s most vulnerable children. Not acceptable.

    T/E has found the funds to put up metal fencing around all of the district schools, pay a consultant to tell the SB what to look for in the next superintendent, hire a high-profile attorney to fight the prospect of offering fair treatment to 180+ District employees and who knows what else. Whatever the cost of healthcare for those employees who want and need it, it should be considered a necessary expense.

    It is disturbing that the TE School District is the only one in the area that does not offer healthcare coverage for their aides and paras. It is wrong that they are already paying contractors significantly more per hour for some outsourced employees. All to avoid paying relatively small pension costs and to “get ready” for ACA compliance by starting to outsource now.

    1. “All to avoid paying relatively small pension costs and to “get ready” for ACA compliance by starting to outsource now.”

      25+ cents per dollar of wages, plus any additional cost of benefits is not “relatively small”…and be careful, the teachers attempted to grieve the existence of Para Professionals years ago…those jobs could go to certified professionals in a minute.

  4. I don’t understand the rationale behind the organizing effort. It seems to me that the organizers are waiving a red flag in front of the board with lettering that says, “Please Outsource My Job Now!”. Maybe Zeek can inform us of the advantages.
    Before the organizing effort, the board was contemplating the pros and cons of keeping a non-unionized workforce in house vs. subcontracting. Now the board is contemplating keeping a [possibly] unionized workforce in house vs. subcontracting. It might be instructive for the aides and paras to examine what happened last year at the Kennett Consolidated School District.
    Tears as KCSD announces plans to outsource support staff

  5. It bears mentioning that, in my opinion, there are several advantages to keeping the support staff in house. It just takes the two sides to be reasonable at the negotiating table.
    If the district goes the outsourcing route they have to pay a profit to the outsourcing company. I’d rather see those profit dollars going toward in house employee benefits.

  6. more questions… if the aides and paras unionize, does that mean that the district has to hire unionized workers to fill those positions? suppose some new applicant, not in the union comes along. will he/she have to join the union to take the job? if they are hired wo union representation do they then have to join since is is a union position? What does this mean for the existing workers? can they, perhaps punitively be replaced by other union workers? Can the whole thing STILL be outsourced? I wouldn’t put anything by the school district administration, in the name of reducing costs . There are a bunch of questions. lets write them down and find out. Funny but I never thought I would consider a union. Kind of like the dark ages of the late 1800s and early 1900s when unions sought to protect the legitimate rights of workers from the robber barons that owned the assets… interesting.

  7. The administration (and some school board members) do not care about saving our jobs, that was obvious last spring. We are treated like second-class employees and many of us are TE taxpayers. Without the support of a union I know that there’s no chance I will have a job going forward.. If it weren’t for the public speaking out last year our jobs would already have been outsourced.

    My husband was laid off recently and our health benefits will run out shortly. I may be in the minority but I’m one of those that could use insurance coverage.

    1. If your husband was recently laid off, then you have first hand exposure to the fact that jobs are not for life. This economy stinks. The public will speak out for you, but not if they see some kind of expense handed there way….the only way to negotiate this is face to face WITH THE BOARD. The new members seem open to conversation — have one. But have it before you are in a Union, because once that happens, you really do lose YOUR voice and it becomes a collective voice…where wages, hours, working conditions, benefits all become out of control. I know some of the board seem indifferent, and in truth, some may be….but they are all members of the community and you need a connection to understand their POV just as they need one to understand yours. Don’t let ANYONE speak for you. Perhaps it’s time for you to find a job WITH benefits so you have more continuity — but as you learned with your husband, no job is secure enough to know you can rely on it 100%. Been there, done that.

  8. TENIG employees will be outsourced at the end of their new contract. Bids were sent out and received earlier this year, so the district knows the money that can be saved. The new TENIG contract includes a 4% salary reduction with pay freeze and increased health care costs, plus some other reductions for custodial staff. How will joining TENIG help the aides?

    1. Our 3-year contract starts July 1, 2014 and runs until June 30, 2017. A lot can change in 3 years, including new superintendent and school board.

      1. TENIG member — that is simply not accurate. NOTHING changes during a contract….unless there is a compelling reason, neither side reopens. That kind of thinking is what we call “drinking the kookaid”

  9. As a former board member who was present when the bus drivers were outsourced, let me warn the aides/paras that TENIG isn’t too worried about them either. When the bus drivers were asked to meet with the board, TENIG refused them representation at the table…and that was BEFORE TENIG took marching orders from the PSEA.

    The job of AIDE is one that a generation ago was handled by volunteers. Some of the reasons that evolved into a paid position was for security clearance purposes and stability — volunteers don’t have to come in as planned. At one point the PSEA complained that we had PARAS at all — claiming they should be certified positions held by teachers.

    Parent turned AIDE may be depressing, but he/she is accurate. These jobs were based on a model of no benefits. No one who took the job had any inclination benefits might be forthcoming. The ACA has changed that, and so the district (and lots of others) have had to rethink how to staff positions that don’t have the financial structure to support benefits and salaries. Pay more money, pay fewer people.

    This isn’t about what is fair or affordable or legal or even right. This is about keeping a decent job or losing a great one. WHEN the bus drivers were full-time people with full benefits, the job was no longer affordable. NOT A SINGLE BOARD MEMBER at the time had any interest in outsourcing. We simply didn’t need 40 hour a week people to do 5 hour a day jobs. We attempted several times to restructure to add a benefit allowance onto the hourly wage and many others…but TENIG was made up primarily of school secretaries (who over the years wanted “bumps” to their hourly salary when the principal was out of the building) and in-house mechanics and other articulate TENIG people. Bus Drivers were NOT allowed to make an offer to stay (which is different from what the custodial staff was able to do). So let me suggest this is how it may play out:
    The Paras/Aides may successfully join the union. No harm there. But the board will get an outsourcing proposal for those positions, or will simply cut many of them as the total cost will exceed the cost they are willing to put towards the process. And now this organized group will have to allow TENIG to represent them to save their jobs. TENIG — the custodians, security, secretaries, maintenance, mechanics…the NON INSTRUCTIONAL GROUP. The people who get pensions when they retire because they work for a school district in a state with a generous pension system. THOSE PEOPLE will sit at a table and try to protect the jobs of AIDES and PARAS. And how will they do it? The same way the Custodians did…either find a price everyone can agree on, or say goodbye to the position.

    So rush out for your union vote. As Aides and Paras, you are about to give your votes to the PSEA and earn the right to pay PSEA dues for that representation. IN return, you can expect what???? “A seat the table.” Make sure you get that in writing….and when is the next TENIG contract up for negotiation so you can SIT at that table? Otherwise, read the current TENIG contract language about outsourcing….and get your group together to put together a competitive proposal to protect your jobs IN THE WALLET, because once you are in a Union, that’s the only distinction the job will have. “In House” or “Contracted Services.”

    I don’t know which way you all should go, but I do know that except for the public lamenting of your lack of benefits, no AIDE or PARA I know took the job with any expectation of benefits. No one likes to be faced with outsourcing — but a union vote will NOT eliminate that option….it will just make it more “unilateral” in that no one can represent themselves….

    1. For a school district that prides itself on its achievements and its quality, I find it hard to understand why we dont offer insurance to ALL its employees. The school board and the administration had its chance last year to give them insurance and made the conscious decision NOT to.

    2. sidellines, excellent entry. of course, many or most of the aides did in fact take the job knowing there were no insurance benefits. Its not like they are now petitioning, marching and carrying on because all of a sudden they want benefits. This has come to bear because of the geniuses in Washington.. the mis named ACA… what a crock. So for the time being, in the new paradigm of hope and change, the aides and paras are scrambling to find a solution to save their jobs which is a good thing? and work within the parameters of the job killing act. yep, no job now a days is permanent.. I just hope that all those who voted for those in congress and the administration (president) are happy that NOW their jobs, like so many many others,are in jeopardy.

      I agree the union may not be a good thing. What are they buying for their dues? THis concerns me.

  10. Watching and others who are so sure this is only about school board attitudes: SEEK A PUBLIC REFERENDUM for costs, tax increases, and priorities. Get the pulse of the COMMUNITY, those who vote, not just those who read blogs.
    I have little faith in it passing, but if there is a dedicated group willing to educate people, it might just change the dynamic. DO SOMETHING…not just pass your negotiating rights to a Union with a 3 year contract in place (which doesn’t change with a superintendent OR school board)

  11. Agree with sidelines. We need a group of people to educate the public and change the dynamic.

    TENIG needs leadership that stands up for it’s members. Could they have been outsourced had they not taken a 3M pay cut? Maybe, but I doubt it. You can’t let people push you around. If outsourcing looked immanent, they could have rallied the parents and I’m almost 100% sure, TENIG would have prevailed. Would there have been a risk? Sure. But You can’t let people push you around. IMO, the risk was worth it.

    Doesn’t the President of TENIG work in the TEAO’s? Maybe that has something to do with it. The administrators have ongoing easy access to her all day long. Her members don’t even have that much access to her.

    It must have been confusing to TENIG members when she wrapped that contract up 9 months before it came due. I’m not even a member and it was confusing to me. Why did she feel so compelled to sign that contract which gave her members a 3M cut months and months before it was due?

  12. We are already being outsourced. Delta T aides are everywhere. They are just bringing them in quietly.And trust me. You can tell who they are. Parents would be upset.

  13. I’m not an ACA expert by any means, but perhaps if the district and union negotiate realistically it will be possible to come up with a low cost health care plan option for those aides and paras that need it, without running afoul of the eventual law?

    It should not go unnoted that the increase in PSERS contributions is one factor driving the proposed food service price increases. This year’s increase comes after a number of years of steady prices and two years of deficits. Even assuming no drop-off in volume, the operation will not break even and future benefit increases will force annual price increases. Add in the apparent need for major capital investment, the scenario for keeping the operation in-house beyond the expiration of the next contract does not look too rosy.

    It would be great if someone could figure out a way that future jobs are not jeopardized by the need to pay catch up PSERS contributions for past and current employees.

  14. who stopped the vote? Delayed it anyway? Something smells… politics as usual?

    Also is the district hiring former graduates or not? Anyone>? thanks

  15. thanks Pattye. My understanding, erroneous I guess was that it was scheduled then moved back, or at least the hope was it was to be voted upon soon then pushed back…

    so many issues with this school district…

  16. Anybody else attend the CHS graduation? Kevin Buraks droned on forever in a very hot Pavilion while graduates and elderly family members sweated and waited for him to finally shut up! His speech had no relevance whatsoever to the students. It’s their night, not his!

  17. I don’t live there anymore so cannot watch it, but I apologize that he didn’t get “the speech” from his predecessors. In the late 90s, it was the tradition for the school board president to give a speech. Not just on my own, but with support, I reminded members that NO ONE cares what the board president has to say. I set the goal at less than 3 minutes and I think most have met that. In the late 90s, we had President who talked for more than 30 minutes and even passed a beach ball around for entertainment. Write emails and remind the board that they get to speak out of tradition, not out of need. Why any board president thinks they have something to say is beyond me. Buraks has young kids. Perhaps he thinks his wisdom has merit? Write him and tell him nix.

  18. whats the deal with fencing in the schools>? This is for security? Or to secure the property lines of the schools?

    OUr school board has lost it.. There must be a small pool of good candidates out there.. Who really would want this job? And we they get it, they get stoopider than ever.. Mr Dorsey, you were the voice of reason.. did YOU vote for this???TE is dumbing down to the lowest common denominator… Not all the boards fault.. state and federal mandates.. too…we are all children now, incapable of running our own lives.. I would like to know WHY New Eagle is being fenced in.. this seems dangerous.. and ugly in many ways… HELP!!!

  19. Sidelines, its POWER.. many of these guys, and Buraks is certainly one grab the power and think they are more important than they really are.. His number one job is father…. husband… he is over the top and a terrible public speaker to boot, even if what he had to say was meaningful, which it rarely ever is…. BOO!

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