Thursday, November 5, 2009

District and Union Proposals for the Support Staff Contract

The Neshaminy School District has a valuable, hard-working support staff that includes custodial, grounds and maintenance workers, bus drivers, food service workers, secretaries and instructional aides. The staff, represented by the Neshaminy Educational Support Professional Association (NESPA), includes 270 full-time and 284 part-time positions. Full-time employees receive generous benefits that are very similar to the package that has been provided to certified teaching staff; part-time employees do not receive benefits. The NESPA contract expired on June 30, 2009, and the support staff has been working under the terms of the expired contract since that time.

While the Board of course wishes to support these hard-working employees, the same financial pressures that are causing us to ask for substantial changes in the teachers' contract apply to the support staff as well. Put simply, the District and its taxpayers can no longer afford to provide excessive benefits to this or any other employee group. To ascertain just how expensive these benefits are for full-time support staff, the Board has begun the process of investigating the savings that could be realized by contracting out some of this work to third parties. No final decisions regarding third-party contracting have been made.

A summary of the major proposals made by each side to date is provided below. Please note that the District positions discussed below are meant to describe the Board's current proposals, but should not be interpreted as our official position in the event of fact-finding or other legal proceedings.

Contract Length and Outsourcing
The Board proposal calls for a 3-year contract with an agreement not to outsource any work for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 contract years.

The Union has asked for a 5-year contract with no change to the language regarding third-party contracting.

The Board initially proposed 3% raises in each year. After further bargaining that involved a reduction in proposed employee contributions to health care premiums (see below), the Board prepared a counteroffer that included a reduction in the offered wage increase in the first year to help offset some of the increased health care costs the District would incur. The Board's current offer proposes annual wage increases of 1%, 3% and 3%.

The Union proposes annual wage increases of 0% in the first year (provided there is no employee contribution to health care premiums), 3.5% in each of the following 3 years, and 4% in the fifth year.

Medical Benefits
The base medical plan in the expired contract is Blue Cross PC-15 (the same plan that covers the teaching staff), with no employee contribution to premiums.

The Board initially proposed to change the base medical plan to PC 20/30/70 with 15%, 16% and 17% employee contributions over three years - these are the same provisions offered to the teachers' union, and which administrators and administrative support personnel currently have.

The Union did not accept the Board's offer, and after further bargaining, the Board's current offer is to change the base medical plan to Blue Cross C3-F3-O1, with employee contributions of 10%, 11% and 12% over three years.

The Union's proposal is to keep the PC-15 plan, with employee contributions of 0%, 2%, 3%, 4% and 5% over five years.

Prescription Drug Benefits
The drug benefit plan in the expired contract is Rx 5/20 with no employee contribution to premiums, and with a "single source" provision where brand-name drugs are offered with the lower generic co-pay if no generic equivalent exists. As we have stated with regard to the teachers' contract (which has the same provision), to our knowledge no other District provides this benefit for employees. District-wide the single source provision costs taxpayers over $1 million annually.

After the Union rejected the Board's initial offer of Rx 5/30 with no single source and 15%, 16% and 17% employee contributions, the Board has proposed to change the drug benefit to Rx 5/30/50 including a formulary, and to eliminate the single source provision, with employee contributions of 10%, 11% and 12% over three years.

The Union's proposal is to keep the current Rx 5/20 plan with continued single source and employee premium contributions of 0%, 2%, 3%, 4% and 5% over five years.

Opt-Out and Double-Dipping
The expired contract provides "opt-out" benefits whereby eligible full-time employees who choose not to participate in some or all aspects of the health insurance packages receive a share of the savings that the District realizes from not providing such coverages. There is a loophole in the expired contract that allows an employee whose spouse is also a District employee to receive these opt-out payments even though they are covered by their spouse's enrollment.

The Board proposes to eliminate this "double-dipping" provision. The Union opposes any change.

Retiree Benefits
Under the expired contract, eligible retirees and their spouses receive full medical, drug, dental and vision coverage until age 65 with no premium contributions. Eligibility depends on age at retirement and years of service. Retirees who do not meet the age or years of service requirements may remain in the group medical plan by purchasing coverage at District cost; in addition they are eligible to receive single prescription drug coverage at no cost until age 65, and may purchase family coverage at District cost.

The Board proposes to eliminate these retirement benefits, to be replaced with a provision allowing all eligible retirees to remain in the group medical plan at District cost. The Union opposes any changes to retiree benefits (except that retirees will be placed into the same base medical plan as active employees).

Emergency Shut Downs
Under the expired contract, when an emergency occurs and an employee is sent home before the normal shift is terminated, they are guaranteed pay for at least two hours of service for that day.

The Board proposes to eliminate this provision, and the Union agrees.

Job Elimination Wage Protection
Under the expired contract, if a position is eliminated and the affected employee is reassigned to another position that has a lower wage, then the employee does not receive any reduction in pay.

The Board proposes to eliminate this provision. The Union opposes any change to this provision.

Drug Testing
The Board proposes that each NESPA member be required to undergo a drug test at the District's discretion. The Union opposes this proposal.

Sick Leave
Under the expired contract, full-time employees are entitled to 12 sick days per year; eligible part-time employees are entitled to 4 sick days per year.

The Board proposes that sick days should no longer count as time worked for the purpose of calculating overtime. The Union opposes this proposal.

Work Rights for Employees Active as of June 30, 1993
Current employees who were active as of June 30, 1993 enjoy several "grandfathered" protections relating to insurance benefits, protection from reduction of regular work hours, part-time benefits, and personal holidays.

The Board proposes to eliminate these special provisions for such employees. The Union opposes changes to these provisions.

The Board has a strong preference to reach a comprehensive, fair agreement with its support staff employees without the need to outsource work. To that end, we believe the proposals we have made represent reasonable changes that will allow employees to continue to enjoy job security along with generous benefit provisions.

However, the Union's refusal to adequately address the above issues, related primarily to benefits for full-time workers, leaves us little choice but to continue to consider contracting with third parties as a partial solution to the financial challenges we face.