Williamsport Area ESP Will Continue to Fight Subcontracting
The battle is not over. That’s the message from the Williamsport Area Education Support Professionals Association (WAESPA) following the Williamsport School Board’s vote on June 2 to subcontract more than 40 WAESPA bus drivers and aides.
The WAESPA has been fighting against the subcontracting threat since May 2008. At an emotional school board meeting on June 2, union and community supporters spoke against subcontracting and challenged the school board to justify their vote.
“You should be ashamed of yourselves,” residents and union members shouted to the school board after the vote.
Despite the community’s opposition to subcontracting, the school board voted 8 to 1 in favor of selling the bus operations and the jobs to the for-profit company Student Transportation Services. The WAESPA presented the school board with petitions signed by hundreds of Williamsport residents who oppose subcontracting.
The WAESPA will now file an unfair labor practice charge against the school board.
PSEA UniServ Rep Cary Kurtz said that the school board has failed to bargain fairly during the past year, including putting the subcontracting bids in the newspaper without first contacting the union, and by offering the union a proposal which included higher wages for other support staff if they agreed to the subcontracting proposal. The WAESPA also plans to ask for fact finding to help settle their contract.
"We don't feel they bargained in good faith," Kurtz said. "We feel this is something that has been put in place a long time ago - that their decision was already made."
After the vote, WAESPA members said they would continue to remain vocal against subcontracting. “We are very distressed that the school board refuses to listen to the taxpayers on this important issue. It is clear that they do not care about keeping local jobs or helping our local economy,” said Chip Harter, WAESPA President. “This is not an issue about saving money. From the beginning this has been about breaking the union and hurting our workers.”
The school board voted to subcontract the workers despite evidence that clearly showed that hiring private companies usually ends up costing school districts more money because the district loses control over their budget.
“We have shown them the evidence that in other districts these private companies low ball their bids and then raise the costs later. Our transportation department has consistently come under budget --so this is not about saving money,” Harter said. “We have given them many concessions, yet they seemed determined to fire the bus drivers and aides.”
Harter said that when private companies take over they often slash wages and cut benefits, and bring in their own employees to take the jobs. “How can the school board think this is a good idea for our community? We need to hold on to as many decent paying jobs as we can if we want families to stay here. How can the school board think it is a good idea to send our taxpayer money out of the community? How can the school board think it is a good idea to allow a for-profit company to make money off our children?” Harter asked.
Many WAESPA members left the meeting in tears. “I just don’t know what to do now. How can they do this? I have spent 26 years working for the school district and this is how they treat us,” said WAESPA member Deborah Monds, who needs her health benefits to pay for a life-saving kidney transplant operation.
The WAESPA has been attempting to settle a new contract since January 2008.