School employees make a bid to save their jobs

By Alan R. Madeleine

Last week at a special School Board Meeting, Gerald Butler, the attorney for the school district, laid it out. It wasn’t the prettiest picture, but it‘s the best one custodial employees can paint.

That picture being the wage and benefit concessions proposed by AFSCME Local 257 – which also includes maintenance workers and bus drivers.

The city, per the edict from Gov. Snyder’s office to explore cost reductions, had solicited bids for the next three years’ worth of work from outside contractors. It received seven bid proposals, of which five met the appropriate specifications.
This was not a meeting to decide the issue. Rather, the union was feeling out the Board’s general sentiment as to whether it was even worth spending the time and money to formalize their proposal legally.

Of the two companies that failed to meet specifications, one, AmeriSource, was actually just about as expensive as the union’s proposal, which would have almost certainly meant losing out on the bid anyway.

The five proposals that came in on time and which were filled out correctly would all cost the city less money than the union’s proposal, even with a 30 percent wage reduction. However, as School District Attorney George Butler noted, the union cannot hope to compete “with a group of people willing to work for $9 per hour.”

The five outside proposals range from $1.6 million for three years, to $2.1 million, with an average of $1.8 million. The union’s proposals would cost the city $1.7 million for two years of service (at a wage concession of 25 percent across the board). That offer was for $1.6 million (at a wage concession of 30 percent).

Part of that equation is that the second year of the contract is not nearly as spartan as the current one would be. Wage costs would rise back up about 20 percent in the second year (2012-13), under the offer.

Extrapolating those figures to a third year, it would still cost the district and the taxpayers something close to three quarters of a million dollars over the next three years to retain the current staff.

Still, the advantages of keeping people on, with whom everyone was already familiar, were gone over more than once. In fact, it was that very familiarity that both Butler and the boardmembers kept bringing up.

Boardmembers stressed that, while the union might not be able to match the cost of the other bids, there is concern over allowing strangers to work at the schools.

Thus, when Butler brought the numbers out — and he did most of the night’s talking — the school board nodded in agreement with his conclusion that, given all the factors, including those above and beyond price alone, the union’s offer was competitive enough to warrant proceeding with the next step of formalizing the offer.

The motion to allow the union to make a formal offer was brought by Hedy Shulgon, and seconded by Titus Walters. It passed unanimously. (Boardmember Dennis Puchalski was absent.)

What was not clear is why the union is allowed to make an offer after the bids from the other would-be contractors were submitted.

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