OTTAWA LAKE - Whiteford Agricultural Schools cafeteria workers who filed a grievance about the privatization of their jobs have reached an agreement with the school district.
Superintendent Larry Shilling said the school district paid a lump sum of $1,031 to three of the four cafeteria employees who are represented by the Whiteford Educational Support Personnel Association.
The payment settles a grievance that was filed on their behalf in August after they went from being employees of the school district to working for food service contractor Sodexo.
The privatization of their jobs, which was approved by the Board of Education in June, meant that the employees lost paid sick leave, state retirement pension contributions, and other benefits that had been negotiated in a union contract that will expire in June, 2010.
An arbitration hearing between the union and the school district on the unfair labor practice charge had been scheduled for Feb. 5.
Mr. Shilling said the resolution of the grievance with the payout was strictly a financial move because the district will not incur additional costs for the arbitration and legal counsel as well as additional costs on any other appeals.
"This was done for financial reasons. We still feel that we were in the right," Mr. Shilling said. "But in these economic times, it made no sense to continue with the grievance."
The Board of Education unanimously rejected the union grievance after hearing arguments from Mr. Shilling and the group's Michigan Education Association representative in August.
The union then appealed the board decision through arbitration to the American Arbitration Association.
Union officials claimed that transferring employment of the workers to Sodexo violated the unexpired master contract agreement with the association that also covers bus drivers and custodians.
"Under state law, the district was allowed to privatize support services. We don't like it. But had they not breached the contract by doing it in the middle of the contract, there certainly wouldn't have been a grievance," said Mike Baumann, an agent for the Michigan Education Association, which handled the grievance for the employees.
Mr. Baumann said the settlement is exactly what the three employees would have received in benefits through June under the collective bargaining agreement.
Mr. Baumann said the fourth employee didn't receive money because she retired, thus losing her right to be part of the grievance.
Mr. Shilling and Mr. Baumann said the union will cover the estimated $900 costs charged to the two parties to cancel the arbitration hearing.
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