Approximately 35 bus drivers, custodians and maintenance employees in have agreed to a one-year contract that will take effect July 1 and include an overall salary freeze.
The school board unanimously approved the contract with the District 113A Support Staff Association (IEA-NEA) during their monthly business meeting Tuesday. The contract will expire July 1, 2013.
Unlike most collective bargaining agreements, the new contract was negotiated without the help of a professional mediator. Instead, District 113A board members spoke directly with union representatives to discuss the terms of the agreement.
Interim Superintendent Robert Madonia said the move likely saved the district anywhere from $15,000 to $20,000 in legal fees.
"Using an attorney for these contract negotiations can cost a district tens of thousands of dollars, so I really have to commend this board for thinking outside the box and pursuing direct communication with the union," he said.
The meetings also served to improve the relationship between the board and district employees, Madonia said.
"It's a win-win situation for the district because in addition to saving taxpayer dollars, we've opened a dialogue between the union and the school board," Madonia said. "There are obviously frustrations with the pay freeze, but they understand the position of the district. The difference this time is that they've now spoken directly with board members."
The negotiating committee included District 113A Board President Mike Aurelio, Secretary Cindy Kelly and Board Member Al Malley.
Aurelio praised his fellow committee members, as well as the union representatives, for their cooperation and leadership.
"For the first time in a long time, the board sat down and had a real conversation with the bus drivers and custodians," Aurelio said. "We're all people who care about the district, and we were able to work out a very reasonable conclusion without spending thousands of dollars. Plus, it really helped build a relationship that will hopefully continue in the future."
The contract applies to all full-time custodians and groundskeepers, as well as part-time custodians, maintenance employees and bus drivers.
Although salary and insurance terms will remain the same, the board did work out a few minor provisions, Madonia said.
Because part-time employees are ineligible for unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act, District 113A custodians and bus drivers were previously unable to take leave for a serious family illness without risk of losing their jobs. Under the new contract, however, employees are able to dock their pay for each day they take off without fear of termination.
The current three-year contract is set to expire June 30. Madonia said the board opted to negotiate a one-year deal so all of its union contracts—including ones with teachers and support staff—would be aligned.
"The benefit of having all the contracts aligned is that every employee will be treated under the same financial status (of the district)," he said.