Rockford School Board votes to turn its back on employees
After refusing to negotiate with its employees for months on end, the Rockford School Board voted on May 9 to move forward with outsourcing school bus operations to Ohio-based First Student and will begin negotiating a contract with the company. The Board will vote on June 1 whether to adopt that contract. The Board is also seeking bids to outsource nutrition services.
While school employees of AFSCME locals 692 (paraprofessionals), 1275 (bus drivers) and 3210 (nutrition services) were attempting to negotiate fair wages and affordable health care, the Board has refused to budge from its “last, best and final offer.”
In fact it imposed that offer—which included hikes in health insurance costs—in January. AFSCME has filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge challenging the claim that negotiations are at an impasse.
As a result, nearly 1,000 school employees went on a three-day strike in March in an effort to get the school district back to the bargaining table. Despite Superintendent Ehren Jarrett’s assurances to parents that they would bargain in good faith, the district never altered its offer even while union members put forth significant compromises.
“This latest maneuver is simply retribution toward employees who are standing up for good jobs for their families and communities,” said AFSCME Council 31 Executive Director Roberta Lynch. “It is a punitive action that undermines the collective bargaining process and weakens the economic security of hundreds of families.
“The Rockford school district is sitting on a $105 million surplus and, by its own estimates, will save just $142,000 a year by contracting with First Student, a company with a poor track record for public service,” Lynch said. “Instead of putting money into the pockets of a for-profit company, the district should help ensure that school employees are compensated fairly.”
“AFSCME members are always willing to bargain in good faith and make compromises,” said Ashley Smith, a school bus driver and president of Local 1275. “If they are willing to negotiate with First Student, the district should be willing to negotiate with its own dedicated, experienced employees.”
If the subcontracting goes through, employees will lose their access to secure retirement through a pension. Employees have been paying toward their pension with the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund for years. Anyone with fewer than eight years on the job will be repaid their contributions and vested employees will be able to draw a pension—but for all employees that benefit will be cut short.
The May 9 vote was 5-2, with outgoing board member Lisa Jackson and board member David Seigel voting no.
“I’ve worked for many organizations that sought outsourcing to solve their problems,” Jackson told the Rockford Register Star. “The outsourcing didn’t work.”
The fight against privatization is not over and Rockford residents can still make their voices heard by opposing the board’s plans and urging Superintendent Jarrett and the entire board to return to the bargaining table. Send an email at AFSCME31.org/FairRPS or call the school board at 815-966-3101.