The Delaware City School District’s United Electrical (UE) workers union on Monday asked to reopen contract negotiations after claiming they received a pay cut when they only agreed to a pay freeze.
UE workers, which include the district’s bus drivers, custodians, cafeteria crews and maintenance staff, said that while their hourly wages did not change — as agreed upon in the contract — the number of hours for which they were paid unexpectedly decreased. The school board denied having knowledge of the change.
The workers said their reduced paychecks essentially meant working an average of 35 minutes a day for free. One union member said a fellow bus driver’s paycheck was $300 less than she had received for the same work last year.
Especially upsetting was that the union did not learn that their hours would be cut until they received their first paycheck, said UE international representative Dennis Painter.
“When we left last May, when we talked about the cuts, I thought we respected each other,” said Painter. “Not only did we get blindsided, but, in my opinion, we were disrespected.”
“We want to be a partner in these tough (financial) times so that the school can get through,” said Painter. “But we don’t want the school to think that we’re push-overs.”
UE was the last of three unions within the district to accept a pay freeze effective June 30, 2011 to July 31, 2012. The contract — which applies to 120 bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians and maintenance staff — was expected to save the district about $54,051.
Had the union known of a future cut in hours, however, it would not have agreed to take a freeze in wage and step increases, Painter said.
“They (the board members) know that we wouldn’t have agreed to it because you can’t put most of the burden on the people who are in the lower category of income,” Painter said.
District superintendent Paul Craft seemed surprised about the allegations.
“I don’t believe that’s true at all. We would never do that,” Craft said.
He also said he could not think of anything that could explain why the workers were getting smaller paychecks than what they thought they deserved.
The union workers suspected it had something to do with the new computer programing used to evaluate the bus routes.
They said the new program estimates how much time is spent driving from one location to another. The problem, the workers said, is that the program does not factor the time spent prepping the bus, allowing children to enter and leave the bus, or any traffic-related delays.
Craft said the intention of the new program was not to impact workers’ pay checks.
“It wasn’t on the board’s radar screen or mine,” said Craft. “It wasn’t something that we set out to do in any way, shape, or form.”
He also said the anticipated savings of $54,051 from the UE contract did not involve savings related to the computer program.
“We did not adjust the (transportation) budget on the savings coming from this program,” Craft said.
“Any driver can come and review their routes,” Craft continued. “If there is an issue … that’s something that we can verify and make changes to.” The discussion ended with the superintendent agreeing to look into the matter.
As upset as one UE employee who asked not to be identified said she was about the reduced hours reflected on her paycheck, she said she still intends to support the school levy on the Nov. 8 ballot. If the levy fails, she said, home values will decrease and 16 bus drivers could lose their jobs.
As a bus driver and a taxpayer, that was a result she said she couldn’t afford.