Thursday, December 24, 2009

Is the Board attacking organized labor?

That's the accusation of Neil Skillman whose letter appeared in today's Courier Times. Mr. Skillman is "appalled that the Neshaminy school board threatened to hire a non-union company for its custodial work." He goes on to say "If an outside contractor comes in, they probably will not hire from our community, and pay a minimum wage without benefits. Those workers will not contribute to our community or pay local taxes; they will put a burden on local hospitals with charity cases because of not having health benefits. The only one who profits from this is the contractor hired.

At the end of his letter Mr. Skillman does throw in a statement that support workers should contribute towards their benefits, but isn't that the root cause of why we're in this situation? We have one bargaining unit that says paying for benefits has never been on the table, and another that will contribute a small amount but only if we give them raises that exceed their cost of paying for those benefits.

In just a few weeks, we will take our first look at next year's budget. The preliminary budget gap won't be as large as this year's but it will be significant. And when we're faced with cutting educational programs that our children need to be competitive with the rest of the world, what will people like Mr. Skillman say then?


acs said...

This is just another in a string of Union member letters the BCCT keeps publishing. They tend to be inaccurate, understandably emotional and are intended to mislead the public. As I have said here before, when a district outsources usually 80% plus of current employees are made offers to stay employed-and it is typically not minimum wage but for some very lowskilled jobs it may be(but that only makes sense in todays environment). These writers want people to believe everyone loses their jobs which is not the way outsourcing works unless of course work goes off shore like the private sector unions have already forced American firms to do with massive American job loss in the past 30 years.
William you make the right point here. There will be a deficit this budget and next and the next unless the board steps up and does the hard things. We cannot continue to close schools and cut educational programs and quality year after year. No one wants that.
The school board's job is to improve education at a reasonable cost to taxpayers which due to continued deficits it has not been able to do(deficits caused directly by absurd union contracts). The job of the board IT IS NOT to provide extraordinary benefits to union workers and further, to keep a bus driver or custodian employed by district vs a private firm at the expense of degrading our student's education.
I have heard the board is getting lots of other bids in so it will be interesting when people find out jst how much the district is overpaying for in house support staff. If the obviously completely out maneuvered union leader doesn't take your last offer William, I think you will be left with little choice but to make this hard decision for the sake of the school district.

Tired of this board said...

Stop blasting the unions - the public has had enough

Tired of this board said...

I guarantee you will never publish any of these comments because your blog is not interested in the public's real feelings....

KClarinet said...

It occurred to me as I was reading initially about outsourcing the service jobs that a union vs. non-union issue might come up sooner or later.

So long as the board stresses lower costs and, as a direct result, lower taxes, most of the electorate will probably support it. I don't think that the board, or at least the majority of its members, come to the labor issue with a general anti-union bias, although it's clear most if not all the members feel the NFT specifically has become too strong and, as a result, arrogant.

But if unionized service workers are replaced by non-union workers from outside contractors, it seems to me the board runs at least some risk of appearing anti-union, even if such a description is unfair to most of the individual members. Appearances may ultimately obscure facts. Most taxpayers in any school district have no children of their own in the schools. But many of those same taxpayers are union workers who may find their sympathies torn between wanting lower taxes and supporting union labor.

I am still concerned that, if contracted workers are organized, their labor relations with the contractors could potentially put the school district in a bind in which it has little legal leverage (they wouldn't, I don't think, be constrained by the laws that limit school strikes). But if the workers are not unionized, their lack of bargaining rights with their employers may make life easier for the district but may not (I don't know - time will tell) sit well with voters who are themselves union members.

srodos said...

It would probably take less than 15 minutes for the outsourced former school custodians and aides to form a new union and try to regain what they had lost
after being hired by the new company.

acs said...

Union membership is such a small percentage of the overall workforce and therefore the electorate, I am not certain the board should really care. I think most reasonable people in NSD see these 2 unions as out of control. Some may be pro-union but frankly most of the electorate is not pro-union.
Again we may disagree but I think voters spoke on this in Nov. The board has support to do what it takes to keep taxes under control.
I worry more about the kind of support Unions got from individuals on the board that signed the last contracts. You need five votes and I am sure the union is "working" individuals.We will see if they have what it takes to do the right thing.

JS said...

Tired it looks like you should just give Mr. O'Connor some time (after all this blog isn't and shouldn't be his first priority).

Now I will relay a conversation my brother and I had over the holidays. He's a union driver for UPS and has a pretty decent pension plan coming to him. Needless to say he's pretty supportive of his union, but says that public employee unions are a bit delusional.

For unions in the private sector they can make or break a company. If the union pushes too hard and puts the company in a financial bind they risk the company folding. If UPS has to raise their shipping rates because the drivers push for too much they could end up out of a job.

For public employees that's not the case (particularly schools). Schools aren't going anywhere. If the unions push then the Districts pass along that cost to taxpayers (just like UPS), but in this case they can't just choose to switch to FedEx with out selling their home and moving.

When UPS has been awash in profits, they've pushed for more benefits, when they aren't they've approved layoffs and lower benefits. Something the unions here in Neshaminy don't seem to get. The District doesn't seem to be awash in "profits", but the NFT want's things to be status quo.

Now here's the best part of this story. Up until now the conversation hadn't included numbers. When I told my brother what the current salary, benefit, and retirement incentives were at Neshaminy he nearly fell over. Disregarding actual salary numbers, teachers get a higher percentage of salary as guaranteed pension, a better medical plan, and no such thing as retirement payouts on their end.

All that comes from one of the biggest companies in the US with one of the strongest Unions. They even have a 1 strike policy. Screw up 1 time and POOF. Tenure don't exist there.

Unions may have a place in society, but they have no place in jobs that can't be eliminated if they negatively impact who they work for.

William O'Connor said...

Dear Tired - I am absolutely interested in the public's real feelings, and you would know this if you were a regular reader of this blog. I have printed every comment ever sent to me (although I have edited a few to eliminate libelous or profane statements).

My question to you is are YOU interested in the public's real feelings? While I agree with you that the public has grown weary of this issue, it hasn't been for lack of support of the Board's position. It isn't about one side being right and the other being wrong. It's about funding education for our children. And no matter how exhausting that battle is, it's a fight we must see through to the end.

I welcome honest and respectful dialogue, and I look forward to your opinions.

Levittowner said...

I am really getting concerned. This past year there were cuts made-that as far as I knew-were not going to impact the children's learning experience.
I have seen that it already has( negative impacts on computer learning, tech ed learning and arts learning)
What is going to happen when cuts are being made that *are * known to negatively impact our kids?
It would seem to me that those impacts will be even more serious than what it will look like on paper.

We absolutely must have some real concessions from the union. Teachers and support staff are here to educate our children and be compensated fairly for that important job. However, our children's education should not be slashed to provide the "extras" that the private sector (and private sector unions) have given up.