The Niskayuna Central School District Board of Education approved an agreement with the union representing the district’s support staff Thursday that will gradually bring bus drivers back onto the local payroll after outsourcing transportation just over a year ago.
It also implemented a five-year contract that retroactively bridged the gap since the last one, which expired in June 2012.
The Niskayuna School District Employees Association, which represents about 150 custodians, grounds workers, mechanics, bus drivers and food service workers, had rejected a compensation package proposed by the district that would’ve covered fall 2012 through spring 2018.
In an effort to stay under the property tax cap, Niskayuna subcontracted its transportation services to First Student Inc., saving an estimated $200,000. The district’s drivers were given priority for positions with First Student, but the union was displeased with the decision. The group filed a complaint against the district with the state Public Employment Relations Board in hopes of bringing the bus drivers back to the local payroll.
NSDEA approved the new contract Wednesday, and former district bus drivers will be invited to gradually return. The school district already owns the buses and garage. Three to six drivers will be reinstated this year, depending on available funds. In following years, about 12 will be brought back annually. Jobs will be offered in order of seniority.
“The driving force of what the district did with First Student was to preserve cost,” interim district Superintendent John Yagielski said at a meeting prior to Thursday’s special session.
However, when litigation loomed, Yagielski said both parties realized it would be better for all involved to reach a compromise.
In order to maintain most of the savings achieved through outsourcing, Yagielski said the pay scale for drivers who choose to return will be restored at a slightly lower rate than in 2013. He expected they would, in general, still be paid more than they had been by First Student. The difference will vary, as drivers are compensated based on years of service to the district.
David Bryk, NSDEA president, said in a news release the union was satisfied with the outcome and that bus drivers were ready to get back to their routes.
“This is a fair deal to both sides, and based on the vote of our membership, we are satisfied,” Bryk said. “This has been a long process. I believe it’s good for everyone that we can stay focused on our work with this behind us.”
In addition to settling the labor dispute with bus drivers, the agreement also retroactively renewed contracts for union members that expired in June 2012. The new contracts did not include pay raises for the past two years, but did include one-time payments of $350 for three-month employees and $750 for 12-month employees. It includes a 1.5 percent yearly increase for the final three years.
Board member Bob Winchester said the agreement would be a relief for all NSDEA workers, not just bus drivers, as it provides stability and reassurance for the next three years.
“Some of them were concerned that outsourcing would occur in other areas,” he said.
Winchester said he was satisfied with the outcome of the negotiation and the message it sends to the district’s stakeholders.
“The intent of this agreement is to show that we value employees in this group and we want to move forward with education,” he said. “I think it’s a very good step.”