WB-RC, unions working to hammer down agreement
WEST BRANCH — With only a few days remaining before the beginning of the school year, West Branch-Rose City Area Schools and its unionized employees have yet to reach an agreement on a contract.
WB-RC employees belong to two bargaining units — the International Steelworkers and the WB-RC Education Association.
Superintendent Dan Cwayna said the education association includes teachers, while the membership of the Steelworkers includes clerks, secretaries, food service personnel, custodial staff, mechanics, bus drivers, maintenance staff, paraprofessionals, dispatchers, parking lot attendants and data entry personnel.
Cwayna said if no deal is reached before the start of the school year Sept. 4, the unions will operate under the last ratified contract.
“The old contract remains in effect until the new contract is settled,” he said.
Specifics of negotiations cannot be legally discussed in public, Cwayna added. However, at the WB-RC school board meeting Aug. 20, Steelworkers Representative Bill Laney made several strong statements against the board’s negotiations team.
Laney said Steelworkers members agreed to pay more for insurance before the state passed a law requiring districts to cap the amount it contributes toward employee benefits or force employees to contribute 20 percent for insurance.
“We took the 10 percent in health care before the law changed,” he said.
Laney alleged that any offer from the Steelworkers based on information gleaned from the board during negotiations would not be accepted during the next round of negotiations.
“We feel we’ve been trying to hit moving targets,” he said.
A member of the Steelworkers union, Robin O’Farrell, said during public comment at the meeting that cutting hours in food service and wages to bus drivers in the past saved about $130,000 for the district. She accused the board negotiating committee of mockery.
“The negotiating team has always bargained in good faith,” Board President Dick Bachelder responded.
“Your last offer was pretty lame,” O’Farrell said.
With more cuts coming, Laney said the support staff could not continue to see their wages and benefits be cut.
“This is hurting them,” he said. “This is hurting them hard.”
“We’ve suffered enough,” Laney added.
Laney said he would like to see the board negotiate as a whole, rather than just try to come to an agreement with a board committee. He also said an additional amount of savings the board is pursuing — $500,000 — could not come only from the Steelworkers.
Bachelder said the board is trying to find the $500,000 in savings from anywhere in the district, not just from the Steelworkers.
According to Cwayna, an agreement will have to be ratified by the union and the board of education.
“Once we have an agreement, what happens is the Steelworkers have to ratify that with their members,” he said. “Once that happens, I have to ratify that with the board. Once that happens we have an agreement.”