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updated: 2/28/2013 10:43 PM

Palatine Twp. District 15, bus union contract strife goes public

Palatine Dist. 15, bus union take on each other online

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The strife over Palatine Township Elementary District 15's decision to explore outsourcing its busing system has spilled over to contract negotiations.

The District Transportation Union this week posted a copy of the board of education's initial proposal for a new collective bargaining agreement on its website and Facebook page.

The move led the school district and board to issue a letter Thursday outlining seven "myths and facts" about the process.

One myth, the letter states, is that the transportation union is ready and willing to negotiate with the district. Another is that the union intends to negotiate in good faith, the letter claims.

"FACT: During each of the 2 negotiation sessions held thus far, the Union was unprepared, refused to present any proposals and refused to respond to the Board's proposal," the district and board write.

Union representatives responded with equally harsh words.

"The District 15 Transportation Union is both saddened and stunned by the statement sent by the district to the school community this evening," union President Carin Ulrich said. "The district should be ashamed of itself for this type of behavior."

Ulrich doesn't dispute the district's claim that the union canceled two negotiation sessions and refuses to meet again until April 16. Members expected the proposal shared Monday to include financial concessions, she said, but nobody anticipated a majority of the text in the 40-page document would be crossed out, eliminating entire sections and agreements in the current deal.

"They completely gutted the contract," Ulrich said. "Some parts they lined out were about the safety of our children."

Ulrich said the district wouldn't explain the reason for the changes. She called the negotiation timeline "completely unreasonable" given the work needed to analyze the proposal and share it with members, but pointed out that four dates are scheduled in April -- well before the contract expires June 30.

School district and employee groups usually keep negotiations private. When District 15 and its teachers union negotiated the current four-year deal, details weren't released to the public until after an agreement was voted on by both sides.

Ulrich said the union proposed opening negotiations to the public and the district declined.

The board's initial proposal to the transportation union calls for salary freezes for the life of the four-year contract.

Employees would still have access to health benefits and can participate in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund pension system, but certain requirements are increased. For example, employees would be required to work six hours a day, up from five hours, to qualify for health, dental and vision insurance.

The district's letter states that union employees have received salary increases exceeding the Consumer Price Index for the last four years.

In many cases, they received raises exceeding 4 percent annually, totaling more than 16 percent.

Ulrich said the eliminated language in the contract was far more disappointing than the financial aspects.

In its letter, the district maintains that the board doesn't desire to outsource the way the union claims; rather, the board directed the administration to investigate costs. Two private busing companies submitted bids, one showing savings of more than $3.3 million over a three-year contract.

Many of the union's roughly 200 bus drivers, aides, mechanics and clerical staffers attended a December board meeting imploring officials to oppose outsourcing. They said students' well-being would be compromised, and that the union bus drivers care more because most live in the community.

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