UE Members Celebrate First
Delaware Schools Contract
"The choke hold is broken!" That’s how custodian Jerry
Miller describes the new working conditions established with the first UE
Local 799 contract covering the Delaware City Schools’ custodial, food
service, maintenance, and transportation employees . Miller says that in his
24 years with the Delaware City Schools, no one in the administration ever
responded to the need for better wages, safer conditions, and fair treatment
before workers joined UE.
The three-year contract creates a real grievance procedure and
strong seniority rights. Before, the administration would hire people off the
street instead of giving current employees a chance to bid on open positions.
Seniority will now be the deciding factor in transfers and promotions,
provided that the applicant meets the minimum requirements.
Local 799 members insisted on the right to file grievances
over violations of the contract, as well as school board policies and rules.
For matters of discipline and discharge, the union will have the right to go
Wage increases of 4 percent, 3 percent and 3 percent represent
not only the best raises Delaware workers have seen in many years but also a
major improvement for those at the top of their rates. For as long as anyone
can remember, raises were always given based on starting pay. Now raises will
be based on actual rates. This results in an additional $150-$500 per
year for senior employees.
The contract also provides 2.5 percent retroactive pay to
August 1998, because the administration withheld raises last year in an effort
to scare people away from organizing their union.
A major reason propelling UE organizing was the unfair
two-tier wage system that paid some workers substantially less than others
doing the very same work. This contract ends that practice and places everyone
on the higher tier — resulting in immediate wage increases of up to $2.10 an
hour for some workers. In addition, cooks and cashiers will receive an extra
10 cents an hour to bring their rates in line with area schools. Banquet pay
for cooks is also improved.
The first UE agreement also improves overtime policy.
Previously, workers who took a sick day during the week but worked eight hours
on the weekend would receive straight time. Under this contract, most paid
time off will be considered as time worked for the purpose of applying
Bus drivers had suffered for years from a $4.40 hourly rate
for all "wait time" on field trips. Making matters worse, the school
board had recently implemented a confusing and unfair system of overtime by
blending the "wait time" and "drive time" rates. This
essentially made it impossible for drivers to determine how much they were
actually earning at any given time. With the new contract, drivers will
receive a rate of $9 an hour for all trips, with overtime set at $13.50.
Overtime will be automatic for drivers on Sundays. The trip rate will increase
by 55 cents an hour over the life of the contract.
Other economic gains come in the form of two additional
holidays, payment of wages while taking physicals and attending training, and
the expansion of health benefits to more part-time employees. Also, uniforms
— which were taken away from custodians a few years ago — will once again
be provided. And the school board will now pay for cooks’ aprons.
Workers also won significant victories in working conditions.
The contract provides call-in pay, better breaks, and strong language on
health and safety.
Delaware workers, in their first contract, won the right to
donate sick leave to co-workers who need it, overturning school policy. This
contract allows bargaining unit members to give up to four sick days to
employees who exhaust their sick leave.
Prior to the contract, the administration gave bus drivers’
field-trip work to substitute drivers. Now, a fair system for trip assignment,
designed by the bus drivers themselves, allow subs to take trips only when all
regular drivers have had a chance to get the extra hours.
UNITY WAS THE KEY
During the organizing campaign, workers from all departments
got to know each other and learned the value of sticking together. They won
the March 23 union election by a vote of 46-30, and very quickly afterwards,
more than 85 percent of the unit had joined the union. When the negotiating
committee went to the table, everyone stayed united.
Union members showed their unity by sporting T-shirts that
read "School Works Because We Do!" Management got the message.
When negotiations got off to a slow start, a fed-up Shirley
Thrush told the school board’s negotiators that "if we are going to
get anywhere, you need to come down off your high horse!" Refusing to be
backed down, the UE negotiating team showed their unified strength and kept
hammering until they pounded management’s initial demands for concessions
into incredible gains for all bargaining unit workers.
UE Local 799’s negotiating committee consisted of Norma
Scott, Dick Kelley, Jerry Miller and Shirley Thrush.
They were assisted by Intl. Rep. Gene Elk and Field Org. Gail
UE News - 08/99