June 6, 2014 at 1:00 PM
In previous school board meetings of the Methacton Board of Directors, the company First Student, Inc., which was recently awarded the outsourcing bid to handle the district’s transportation needs, sent along two representatives to explain how the transition process would work.
In their presentation, a story covered by LP TAP on May 5, both First Student’s director of business development, Jim Woods, and Randy Williams, the company’s general manager for Eastern Pennsylvania, spoke to some of the highlights for Methacton drivers about the takeover. Listed among them was the opportunity for all drivers to be rehired by the company. They were promised to be kept at the same hourly wage. They were told their seniority would come with them.
“Our desire is to hire all of the current employees, so we are going to make our employment packages as attractive to them as we can,” said Woods during the presentation to the board and public. “Those people are very, very important to us. We are going to invest in those drivers.”
During the same meeting, many topics such as annual contributions to healthcare, severance packages offered by the district or the amount of hours each driver would be paid could not be answered during public meetings, as the administration cited that they were “matters of personnel” that could not be discussed. Other topics were also still under “contract negotiation” as the district and First Student, Inc., who aims to keep current union representation should at least 50 percent of the drivers come along, had to negotiate with Teamsters 384, the drivers’ union.
Those negotiations seem to have come to an end, as far as Methacton School District is concerned, and the results are not pleasing to current drivers.
A letter was sent to current employees of the district dated June 5. The letter, from the district’s superintendent Dr. David Zerbe, outlined the severance offers to departing drivers.
As a matter of process, all drivers will be released from the district. Those same drivers will apply for their roles with First Student, should they choose to do so. Alternatively, those that are eligible and wish to retire on or before June 30 may do so as employees of the district.
In the case of retirement, current negotiated severances will not be used, and instead the driver retiring will be required to follow the district’s policies regarding retirement.
For the vast majority who are not able or ready to retire, two options were presented by the district for choice. According to the letter, a copy of which LP TAP obtained, each driver must select ONE of the available options.
“Further, only one option may be selected by employee,” states the letter from Zerbe.
The letter states that, as a result of May 29 negotiations between the district and the Teamsters’ Union representatives, both full- and part-time employees will be permitted to select a choice. By June 30, the “time of separation,” as First Student is to take over on July 1, each driver must choose:
· Option 1: Continuation of Medical/Rx/Dental/Vision Coverage
· Option 2: Severance Payable for Unused Sick and Personal Time
Drivers may not select both options, and must pick one or the other. Should the driver select option one, and if he or she is currently enrolled in the District-paid coverage, that driver can continue to be covered by the plans through eligibility with First Student, Inc. or Aug. 31, 2014, whichever is sooner, according to the letter.
“In no case shall any employees be provided District-paid insurance past Aug. 31, 2014,” stated the letter. “Employees who accept this option will not be eligible for sick/personal severance for earned but unused days as of June 30, 2014.”
In the second option, drivers could be paid for their earned time, but only for half of that amount.
“Full- and part-time employees who are not currently enrolled in the District’s medical/Rx/dental/vision plans will be eligible for severance on sick and personal time earned but unused as of June 30, 2014,” said the letter. “Each sick day will be paid at 50 percent of their 2013-14 hourly rate. The maximum number of sick days paid per person will be capped at 120. Personal days will be compensated at $45 per day.”
The district’s coordinator of school and community information, Angela Linch, said that the district’s administration could offer no comment.
“It is a confidential personnel matter,” she stated in an email to LP TAP.
Several bus drivers told LP TAP they are unhappy with the packages offered, and feel after several years of service, it is a “terrible way to be treated.”
“There are people with more than 120 days saved up,” said one driver. “And they tell us this now, when we cannot use them up.”
Another driver agreed.
“We are not getting days we have earned,” said the driver. “We put in our time, and now we won’t be paid for days we rightfully earned.”
A third driver said there were coworkers with over 30 years in with the district.
“With that much time, of course days are saved up,” the driver stated. “We come to work everyday. We give it our all. There is no reason we shouldn’t be paid.”
The new contract with First Student, Inc. is to take effect on July 1, 2014. The district has entered into a five-year contract with the company, with a six-month exit clause (meaning the district has to give a six-month warning if it wants out). Dubbed the “Termination for Convenience Clause,” the district added the notice to permit cancellation at any time.
The district is also negotiating with First Student to include the sale of the current bus fleet. No final figure has been given, nor action taken yet at this time, according to public meeting minutes of the board.
Currently, the district employs around 120 drivers.