Negotiations Between Union and School District at an Impasse

Union workers picket outside the Mahopac Falls school building last month Credits: Photo courtesy of USWOM

MAHOPAC, N.Y. - After working for more than a year without a new contract, members of the United School Workers of Mahopac (USWOM) say they’ve had enough and with negotiations officially at an impasse, the case will go before a mediator next month.

USWOM members include bus drivers, bus monitors and aides, mechanics groundskeepers and custodians.

Union officials said that the district came to them four years ago when money was tight and asked them to extend their contract and forgo their raises for a year. Union officials said the district promised that if they did, they would be recognized and rewarded in their next contract. They say that hasn’t happened. 

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“Why does the School Board not want to negotiate a fair contract with the USWOM?” union member John Mulvaney asked the board at its May 18 board meeting. “Four years ago, to assist the district in a financial way, we agreed to an unprecedented [move] by extending our contract that pushed back our raises for a year. We were told by the board then [that if we] worked with [the board] now, they will remember our sacrifices in the next contract. Well, we have worked without a new contract for over a year now. We haven’t had a raise in two years. Are you not beholden to what you promised us?”

Ken Jones, president of USWOM, said the district approached its other unions with the same proposal and the USWOM was the only union that stepped up.

“We were the only unit that gave back,” he said. “They asked all the others, but we were the only ones that did it.”

While neither side would go into specific details about what brought them to the impasse, Jones said the district is attempting to cut some jobs and the salary increase it has offered is lacking.

“They want to cut some positions on us and we don’t want that,” Jones said. “We would also like to see some kind of raise. We should have gotten that when they asked to give back. We are not only the drivers but also custodians, aides and groundskeepers and mechanics. [The union is] a little bit of every and we are looking for a fair contract. That’s all we want.”

In his speech to the board, Mulvaney said the district residents showed their support for the union and the bus drivers by passing a proposition that called for the purchase of more buses and vehicles by a substantial margin.

“Proposition B passed by an overwhelming majority,” he said. “No other proposition or [school board] candidate received a 70 percent vote [like Prop B]. So, clearly, the taxpayers of Mahopac understand the importance of maintaining such an excellent transportation system.”

Mulvaney said the role of the bus driver is often underappreciated.

“It’s 2:07 in the afternoon--I close the [bus door] and for the next 70 miles I am going to navigate with the equivalent of two classrooms of students through Mahopac on a 40-foot-long, 15-and-a-half-ton bus,” he said. “I am carrying the most precious cargo in Mahopac—that’s your kids and your grandchildren. For the next several hours, there is no one in this district that has more responsibility than I do. I am tasked with the safety of these students.” 

Jones said the union last met with district officials in June of last year.

“We discussed all the issues that they wanted but none of the issues that we wanted,” he said. “We are at an official impasse and that’s why we are getting a mediator in July. That is why we did the demonstration at the last board meeting.”

Ron Clamser, the district’s assistant superintendent for business and human resources, and part of the district’s negotiating team, confirmed that the two parties are at an impasse and will go before a mediator next month.

“We’ve had several negotiations and exchanged proposals that were comprehensive,” Clamser said. “A lot of language [in the contract] we had to clean up, which we did, but there were several items that were deal breakers and that lead to the impasse. We had some topics that were important to us and they had topics that were important to them. We had several attempts to resolve these items but couldn’t get it done.”

Clamser said he couldn’t discuss the details of those topics.

Mulvaney told the board at its May meeting that bus drivers must go through extensive training and safety is the cornerstone of all the union members’ responsibilities.
“I have become an ambassador for this district,” he said. “ I am the first person the student sees in the morning and the last face that student sees in the afternoon.  I don’t have tenure. Among the requirements for tenure is one must have three years of satisfactory performance at their position. I, however, must pass both annual and biannual testing. Twice a year I am required to take in-service education. I’m licensed and I’m certified. As a monitor, an aide, a driver, a mechanic, we can’t have a bad day. There is no tomorrow. We must perform with no mistakes daily. Students’ lives depend on it.”

Jones said he now doubts the sincerity of the district when it asked the union to postpone its raises with a promise of compensations further down the road, and noted that the union wouldn’t likely be as amenable to such a proposal if asked again.

“Was it just a show?” he asked. “We did it once, but why would we do it again?”

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