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First UE Contract
Brings Change
To Highland Schools


UE Local 741's new officers take the oath of office ...
UE Local 741 members, employees of the Highland School District, elected new officers at their May meeting. From left, Pres. Nancy Hughes, Chief Steward Ruth Hollabaugh, Vice Pres. Alan Van Sickle and Treas. Jill Erb. Missing from the photo is Rec. Sec. Denise Stillwell.

On May 1, members of the newly formed UE Local 741 at the Highland School District in central Ohio unanimously accepted a first contract that contains solid seniority and grievance language, major wage improvements, relief from overstaffing, lower cost for health insurance, and many other gains.

These bus drivers, aides, custodians, secretaries, and cooks voted by a two-to one margin to join UE in October 1999. (See: Highland Schools Workers Choose UE). In the ensuing seven months, union members stuck together and repeatedly demonstrated their unity in order to make the School Board listen.


Early in negotiations, the employer indicated strong opposition to union security. As public employers, Highland Schools workers could only negotiate a Fair Share provision, under which non-members would be required to pay an agency fee to cover the cost of representation. The administration opposed even this. The teachers’ union organized in the Highland Schools for 25 years has never been able to get a Fair Share provision.

UE members printed shirts that read, "Let Us Be Fair...Share!" on the front and "Have Some Pride, No Free Ride!" on the back. Also, the majority of the bargaining unit wrote personal letters to the School Board, insisting on a Fair Share clause, while others signed onto a group petition demanding the same.

The employer nearly provoked a strike over the matter. As tension mounted, more than 25 UE supporters came into negotiations as an "expanded committee." Throughout negotiations, smaller groups had also come in to show support at key times. In the end, the parties agreed to a compromise in which all new hires would have to pay an amount equal to the Fair Share fee. Although the teachers had just completed negotiations two weeks previous, and had not been successful in obtaining any Fair Share, the School Board decided to go ahead and add UE’s language to the teacher contract, too.


With this first union contract, there will be a true seniority system at Highland for the first time ever. The blatant disregard for seniority had been one of the main reasons for UE’s overwhelming victory at the polls. As an example of the problem, the schools’ most senior custodian had never been able to get a full-time job, even though she had bid on nearly every full-time position that came open. Now there is strong language to ensure that senior employees will get the chance to move into the jobs they want, and also will get the opportunity to bid on extra work as it comes available.


Highland Schools workers organized primarily for fair treatment, but wages were also important to many — and it’s easy to see why. Some employees had worked at the schools for more than 20 years and never even made $9 an hour. In particular, the jobs performed exclusively by women — cook, aide, and secretary — were very low-paid jobs.

With their UE contract, the first-year wage increases will average 78 cents an hour, with some employees seeing a 15 percent increase immediately. The following two years will bring increases of 3 percent in each year. The contract also establishes timely payment for all hours worked, and ensures overtime pay. Incredibly, in the past the School Board had told some of its employees that they would not be paid for all the hours they worked, and that there would be no overtime pay for certain jobs, regardless of how many hours were worked.


Under-staffing had been at such an extreme level that one employee went from the wastewater treatment plant to the serving line at the school cafeteria! Meanwhile, the driver of the handicap bus had to single-handedly deal with a busload of children who have very specialized needs. This contract brings a new employee in to help out in the kitchen (as well as expanded hours for all head cooks), and adds an aide to assist the driver on the handicap route.

Parents in the community were 100 percent behind UE as members fought to gain the help they needed to do their jobs safely. In fact, some parents began signing petitions of their own to the Board, and also wrote supportive letters or made phone calls.

Other improvements include: a shorter probationary period, discipline only for just cause, no loss of pay for the first five snow days, call-in pay of 2 hours at overtime, an additional holiday (day after Thanksgiving), potential for additional severance pay, improved sick leave and personal leave policy, a procedure for donating sick leave to a co-worker, paid emergency leave for a disaster affecting place of residence, parental leave, vaccinations against Hepatitis for at-risk employees, and fully-paid in-service training.

The UE Local 741 negotiating committee consisted of Gladys Belcher, Dorothy Coleman, Ruth Hollabaugh, Nancy Hughes, Denise Stillwell and Alan Van Sickle. They were assisted by Field Org. Gail Francis and Intl. Rep. Gene Elk.

UE News - 06/00

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