Source: Nashua Telegraph: Click Here for Link to Nashua Telegraph Article
NASHUA – The union representing 101 school custodians whose jobs are on the line once their contract expires June 30 have filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state labor board, charging the Nashua School District with violating their collective bargaining agreement and state labor laws.
The complaint came in response to the Board of Education’s vote last fall to not renew the custodians’ contract and instead hire a private cleaning company as a possible cost-saving measure during tight budgetary times.
The school board is nearing the end of the lengthy process as members plan to review a cost analysis of the bids received from four private cleaning companies at the board’s Feb. 29 meeting.
But even if one of the bids came in favorably, the board likely would not move forward with hiring an outside company until the state labor board issues its ruling. That’s because a finding against the school district could result in the district employing two labor forces to clean city schools – the existing custodial union and the private company.
AFSCME Council 93, Local 365 filed its unfair labor practice complaint with the New Hampshire Public Employee Labor Relations Board on Dec. 30. The union represents the 101 school custodians, as well as school maintenance employees.
The union accuses the school district of “restraining, coercing or otherwise interfering” with its employees’ collective bargaining rights, in part by refusing to bargain in good faith with all members of the union.
The union asked the labor board to find the school district guilty of improper labor practices and to “cease and desist dominating and interfering with the employee organization.”
Asked whether school board members are concerned about hiring a private cleaning company, given that the labor board could require the district to resume contract negotiations with the custodians, board member George Farrington said, “This is something we have to consider.
“We have to get some legal advice. We want to do this right. We don’t want to make any mistakes in any number of the areas that we are dealing with,” Farrington said. He would not elaborate.
The school district denied that it “violated its bargaining obligations or any contractual provisions,” according to a labor board memorandum.
“We think that we both legally and contractually are entitled to proceed in the way we have proceeded,” attorney Thomas Closson said Thursday. Closson represents the school district.
The school board voted last Sept. 16 to not renew its collective bargaining agreement with the 101 custodians in an effort to achieve “substantial savings to the district’s operating budget.”
The district agreed to negotiate a renewed contract with those members of Local 365 who are not custodians.
AFSCME Council 93 coordinator Steve Lyons said the school district is trying to bargain with only a portion of the labor unit, in violation of the state’s public employee labor law.
“In addition, there is an evergreen clause that requires them (the school district) to maintain the terms and agreements for our unit,” Lyons said.
An evergreen clause means the terms and conditions of a collective bargaining agreement remain in effect – even if the contract has expired – until a new agreement is reached.
Closson, in his response to the complaint with the state labor board, said the school district could not in good faith negotiate with the custodians after telling them that it intended to privatize their work.
“Given its decision to pursue the privatization of custodial services at the expiration of the current (collective bargaining agreement), it would be an unfair labor practice for the school district to commence and to engage in negotiations with the union as it relates to those same custodial services,” Closson wrote.
The union and school district agreed to present their arguments to the Public Employee Labor Relations Board through pleadings and exhibits next month.
Four private companies responded to the school district’s request for bids. Bids came in as follows for one year of cleaning service: ABM Janitorial Services, $5.6 million; Temco Facility Services, $3.4 million; GCA Education Services, $2.9 million; and S.J. Services Inc., $2.7 million.
A cost analysis is expected to be presented to the school board at its Feb. 29 meeting.
“It’s about comparing how much it would cost under one of these contracts against what it costs us now – if there is a savings to be realized and how much,” Farrington said.
He noted that the school board from the beginning “reserved the right not to enter into an agreement” with any private vendor. Board members may feel that going that route would not be worthwhile if the savings are not substantial, he said.