Palatine Dist. 15 hires union negotiator as administrator

Posted10/10/2015 7:15 AM

At the start of the school year, Palatine Township Elementary School District 15 brought former District 15 Transportation Union negotiator Judith Bramer on as the assistant director of transportation services.

While District 15 Director of Transportation Operations Tom Bramley says the district was not talking with Bramer while she was negotiating for the union, this isn't the first time District 15 has put a union negotiator in a leadership position with the district. In June, the district brought Lisa Nuss, longtime president of the District 15 teachers union, on as the district's head of human resources.

The District 15 board approved Bramer's hiring on Aug. 24 at a special meeting. Board member Manjula Sriram cast the only no vote.

Bramer was hired as a District 15 bus driver in 2008, and served as the transportation union's secretary. She was a member of the four-person transportation negotiating team.

District 15 Superintendent Scott Thompson says Bramer was chosen because she was the best candidate.

"This doesn't have anything to do with negotiating strategy," he said. "I view everyone in the district as on the same team."

Bramer helped the transportation union negotiate a five-year contract that was approved by the board Aug. 12 with Sriram casting the lone dissenting vote, saying the pay increases don't line up with those in other school districts.

With the contract, bus drivers got up to a 5 percent increase in hourly wages this school year, leaving hourly wages to range from $16.70 per hour for new drivers to $23.52 per hour for senior drivers.

Amy Kunz, who works with District 15 as an officer for the Illinois Education Association, which represents the drivers, says she hasn't heard of any complaints among union members regarding Bramer's new position.

"Moving into an administration role indicates the level of knowledge she has in transportation," Kunz said. "The notion of bringing stability to the transportation department is satisfying."

She says she doesn't expect Bramer to be at the negotiating table.

Even if she is, the district won't be engaging in those talks until four years from now.

Bramer is replacing John Kemblowski, who announced his plans to resign on July 15, the day after contract negotiations had ended. Kemblowski was hired in March.

After resigning, Kemblowski returned to working with Durham School Services where he had worked before his five-month stint with District 15.

"He found out that for whatever reason, the job wasn't for him," Bramley said. "He decided to go back to his old job."

Thompson says the hiring of Kemblowski followed board policy.

A posting for the job went up in December 2014 and the district accepted online applications.

The district then conducted phone interviews, narrowing the pool down to a "manageable" group for in-person interviews.

Kemblowski was chosen as the best candidate.

When they started looking to fill the position, Thompson said, the district went through applications from people who applied for the position when it was open in December 2014.

Thompson said Bramer was not part of that initial pool of applicants, but put her name forward when Kemblowski announced he was leaving.

Thompson says the district interviewed Bramer and one other applicant, but Bramer was the clear choice.

"Jude actually showed that she had the ability to bring forward exactly what we were looking for," Bramley said. "She's somebody who's willing to put in the time and effort to move the transportation department forward."

Thompson acknowledged that Bramer may face challenges in adapting to her new position.

"Now she's become their boss instead of their colleague," he said. "She's taken on a supervisory role."

Assistant Professor of Human Resources and Employee Relations at Loyola University's Quinlan School of Business Peter Norlander said switches like this can foster distrust.

"Fundamentally, there are norms of trust and confidentiality and loyalty expected in situations where one has a duty to represent one's side," Norlander said. "If switching sides breaches any of these, it could be a signal that something is awry in the relationship."

With both sides agreeing to the switch, though, he said, it's unclear how this will play out.

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