SOUTH PORTLAND — After a year and a half of negotiations, the Board of Education has reached a labor agreement with the South Portland Service Employees Association.
But union President Steve Doherty said the outcome has left many “senior employees” unhappy.
Union members have not seen a pay raise since 2016. However, state law only allows a maximum three-year contract, so the two sides signed off on two contracts: a one-year pact, which accounts for the 2017-2018 year spent in negotiations, and a three-year follow-up.
The one-year contract includes no retroactive pay, but increases employee salaries by 2 percent, so raises included in the three-year contract – retroactive to July 1, through June 30, 2021 – will be based on that increase.
The three-year deal gives employees a 2.25 percent wage increase in the first year and a 2.5 percent increase in each of the following two years.
The pay increases, Doherty said, are “fair.” However, a clause in the contract that states all SEA employees earn the same vacation time – where previously, those hired after July 2012 earned substantially less – has “caused quite a bit of anger.”
“It cost us our (fifth) week of vacation earned at your (20th) year,” Doherty said in an email. “Now everyone earns (four) weeks (maximum) over the course of your employment.”
Doherty said senior employees, some in their 18th year of work, will never see that week of vacation.
“We had to sacrifice that in order to get a decent raise,” Doherty said, noting that most of the 29 of 45 voting members who were in favor of ratifying the contract were newer employees.
“Support came from people who had just started,” he said. “It’s kind of like taking from the top and giving to the bottom.”
Further, all SEA employees received a $100 sign-on bonus, which Doherty called an “insult,” given “(the Board of Education) paid their attorney over $100,000 with costs of unnecessary grievances and for contract talks, meditation, and fact-finding.”
This fall, members of the association, which represents 89 bus drivers, custodians, maintenance workers, mechanics and food service employees, were handing out pins reading “We care. Be fair” and flyers encouraging residents to ask the School Board and Superintendent Ken Kunin to “settle a fair contract for the SEA employees.”
Salary increases were a high priority for the association during negotiations.
Doherty said the association originally requested a 3 percent salary increase, but that was immediately knocked down to about 1.25 percent in the beginning of negotiations.
He referenced administrative salaries, which last year increased by an average of 2.5 percent. The director of transportation, assistant director of instructional support and director of buildings and grounds came in over that, with salary increases from fiscal year 2018-19 of 4 percent, 4.3 percent, and 5.8 percent, respectively.
Kunin said in October that the board’s major concerns and proposed changes regarded clarity in contract language to reduce the number of grievances filed by union members.
“We wanted clarity in language, which we think we got, and I think we ended up with a fair wage settlement,” Kunin said Tuesday. “We’re grateful that it was settled and we can all move forward.”
Although the legal expenses for work related to the SEA contract negotiations, mediation and fact-finding have totaled more $48,600, Kunin said almost $50,000 had been spent “administering” the previous SEA contract, in part by dealing with grievances, employee complaints and “threatened job actions.”
Kunin said those grievances were caused by misinterpretations in the association’s previous contract.
So the parties agreed to a contract that Kunin said clarified language for overtime, which now states that the use of any earned time, vacation, sick, or personal time will not be counted toward overtime. Doherty said it was previously counted towards a 40-hour week.
However, much of the language in the clause, Doherty said, is still “contradictory.”
The contract also stipulates that retirement will be based upon one of two plans from which employees could choose: either the Maine Public Employees Retirement System or a deferred compensation plan. Both have their own age requirements employees will have to reach in order to retire and receive the city’s contribution to their plans.
There will also be no more double time on Sundays, according to Doherty.
The School Department will continue to pay 82 percent of health insurance premiums and employees will pay the remaining 18 percent for the next three years.
An annual stipend is included in the contract for all food service employees who have and maintain ServSafe credentials, a food and beverage safety training and certificate program administered by the National Restaurant Association. The accreditation is required by the school district for certain positions and for those in the private sector.
Other highlights of the contract include reimbursements of up to $50 and $70 for food service staff who need to buy proper footwear and pants, respectively, and removing one of the two-tiered earned time system as it applies to vacation.
Both parties also agreed to form a food service committee to study wages and positions going forward. Each party will select three representatives.
Kunin on Tuesday said he and the board were pleased by the outcome of negotiations and hope employees find “stability” in their new contract.
“We’re thrilled and hopefully (SPSEA members) are happy,” Kunin said. “The clarity in language will be helpful in our relationship going forward.”
The South Portland School Board and South Portland Service Employees Association signed off on a contract for 2018-2021 after a year and a half of negotiations. Earlier this year, unionized employees wore pins encouraging the schools to agree to a contract.