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Published: Thursday, 8/20/2009

Workers protest jobs being privatized at Whiteford schools

BY MARK REITER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

OTTAWA LAKE For the last nine years the paycheck that Carol Tabbert has earned for cooking and serving meals to Whiteford Agricultural students and teachers has come from the school district.

That will change in September when she and other cafeteria workers will become employees of Sodexo, the district s food-service management firm.

The privatization of their jobs, which was approved by the board of education in June, means that she and three other cafeteria workers lost paid sick leave, state retirement contributions, and other benefits.

I have nothing against Sodexo. But I want to be a Whiteford employee. I want to keep my pension, Mrs. Tabbert said.

The privatization of the jobs held by Mrs. Tabbert and the others was adopted by the board as part of $335,000 in budget cuts that included layoffs and elimination of teaching positions.

Last week, Whiteford custodians, bus drivers, and teachers as well as employees from other Monroe County school districts marched with Mrs. Tabbert in an informational picket before the monthly board meeting to protest the privatization of the jobs. The union grieved the action privatizing the jobs during the meeting.

Mike Baumann, the representative of her union, Michigan Education Association, said the action to transfer employment of the workers to Sodexo violates the contract agreement that board members signed with the union in 2008.

The master contract, which also covers Whiteford Schools bus drivers and custodians, will expire June 30, 2010.

The board unanimously rejected the union grievance after hearing arguments from Superintendent Larry Shilling and Mr. Baumann.

The move to privatize the food services workers was among the recommendations made by Herb Gabehart, who was interim superintendent prior to Mr. Shilling s appointment.

Mr. Shilling said the district has spent more than $80,000 over the last six years to subsidize food service operations, and the amount would have been larger if Sodexo hadn t refunded nearly $41,000 in management fees to the district.

The union contract calls for hourly pay of $9.80 to $11.71 for the food service workers. Under the contract, they were paid for holidays and were allowed to take up to six paid personal days.

The agreement also required the school district to put 17 percent of their pay into the state retirement pension system.

Joe Uri, Sodexco food service manager, said the employees will be hired at their old wages and will receive 2 percent raises when school begins in September.

He said two employees will be eligible to divert money from their salaries to pay for health insurance benefits. He said employees get paid for five holidays and can participate in an employee-funded retirement plan.

The company doesn t provide paid sick days.

At the grievance hearing, Mr. Baumann repeatedly accused board members of breaking the promise made in July, 2006 that food service workers who quit, retired, or fired would be replaced with Sodexo workers.

You basically made a mockery of the collective bargaining process, he said. You took what you agreed to and threw it in the garbage.

At the hearing, Mr. Shilling argued that Michigan law allows for the school district to use outside firms to employ custodians, bus drivers, and food service workers.

He also said that the commitment made by then-Superintendent Craig Haugen in 2006 was for a limited period, and that the board chose to transfer employment to Sodexo after renewing the contract with the company last year.

Mr. Baumann said the MEA will take the grievance to arbitration, a process that could take six months to a year to resolve.

Juan Duran, a unionized custodian for Bedford Public Schools, walked with the Whiteford Schools employees in a show of solidarity. He carried a sign that read: Your Word Should Be Your Honor .

I believe that when you make a promise and you have a contract you can t renege on it, Mr. Duran said.



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