Members of the Chelmsford, MA School Committee recently voted to outsource the jobs of 24 AFSCME school custodians, leaving the long-serving public employees two choices – unemployment or a 60% cut in pay working for the for-profit company that duped the naïve committee members into signing the agreement.
Despite concession offers by the custodians that included significant cuts in wages and benefits, the school board voted to hand over school maintenance to Aramark – a corporation that pays high six figure salaries to top executives and poverty wages to front-line staff.
Committee members Al Thomas, Michael Rigney and Nick DeSilvio cast the heartless and shortsighted vote, while members Evelyn Thoren and Janet Askenburg took the coward’s way out by failing to show for the meeting. Askenburg cited an unspecific “potential” conflict of interest.
Thomas’ vote was the most disappointing. A former teacher and school principle, Thomas had assured the custodians for several months that he was in their corner but broke his word at the 11th hour.
Last week, custodians Mike Greenwood and Rick Thorne joined Council 93’s Jim Durkin and Joe Maccarone for a meeting with reporters from the Lowell Sun to discuss the impact on the custodians. Read the Lowell Sun story here. or see text below
If you want to tell the Chelmsford School Committee members how you feel about their vote to cast our union brothers and sisters into poverty wage jobs, you can reach them through the following contact information, which is also readily available on the Chelmsford School Department website.
Al Thomas: (978) 256-8772
Nick DeSilvio: (978) 250-9101
Michael Rigney: (978) 256-1186
see text of Lowell Sun Story below
Janitors: Pay cut will force us to retire
By Rita Savard, email@example.com
Updated: 06/21/2011 06:41:49 AM EDT
CHELMSFORD-- They offered to take a pay cut and slash their benefits, but the school district's custodians say it wasn't enough. Now their union says janitors are being forced into early retirement after the new corporate bosses offered to keep them on the job -- for a 60 percent cut in hourly wages.
Following a School Committee vote to outsource custodial services on June 8, Aramark Education Services will hold a contract to manage cleaning, maintenance and facilities in Chelmsford's seven schools.
Although the corporation has agreed to retain the jobs of 23.5 custodians, Michael Greenwood and Rick Thorne say Aramark offered even veteran custodians who have been on the job for 23 years a decrease in hourly wages, going from $18 per hour to $8.25 per hour. Under the new contract, health benefits would also cost about $100 more per month, custodians said.
A spokesperson from Aramark was unavailable for comment yesterday.
"Putting this all on the backs of the people who can least afford it just doesn't seem fair," said Greenwood, president of the union. "What sacrifices have the administration been making? There are many pulling in six-figure salaries. What are they giving up?"
Greenwoodsaid Aramark's offer gives the majority of the custodial staff no alternative but retirement. Greenwood, whose wife is battling terminal cancer, said if he took lesser insurance combined with the steep pay cut, he'd lose the house he worked his life for.
It costs the school district $1.3 million per year for the custodial staff. Outsourcing the service to Aramark will cost about $841,000, saving the school district about $460,000 annually.
Schoolofficials say they hammered out a contract that stressed a preference for retaining the current custodial staff. But what happens now is between custodians and the contract holder.
"We didn't discuss with Aramark the salary they would negotiate with staff," said Superintendent Frank Tiano. "At that point, it's our hope that veteran staff would be offered more than $8 an hour. But now that's in the hands of Aramark."
Thorne, the highest paid custodian, made $38,495 last year, not including overtime. Greenwood made about $36,973. Custodians said any overtime accrued is typically paid by outside sources that rent the school buildings and need custodians on hand to clean during and after events.
Greenwood, 59, has worked as a custodian in Chelmsford for 13 years. Thorne has worked in the district 23 years.
SchoolCommittee member Allen Thomas, who was elected to the board in April, said it was a tough vote. Thomas knows the men well after working as a teacher, dean and principal in the district for many years.
At first he was against it. But the more discussions touched upon the cost of replacing outdated equipment and the loss of 10 custodial positions over the past decade, Thomas said his opinion changed.
"The cost of replacing old equipment and staff was so considerable," Thomas said. "It's a sad circumstance and it's not the custodians' fault. It's the situation they were put in after a long period of time, of not having the money to upkeep equipment."
Thomas also said hourly wages weren't discussed, but it was his understanding that the benefits were reasonably good for both health and dental. Custodians did not receive dental under the school district's insurance plan.
Custodianshad a chance to bid for the contract as well, but were unable to match Aramark's offer.
"We were willing to come to an understanding," Greenwood said. "We offered to take a $1.50-per-hour cut in pay, give up a week's vacation and paid sick days. They didn't want it, but they didn't really tell us what they wanted from us."
The custodians' union is also the last union to have a sick bank in place, which allows workers to deposit and accumulate unused sick days for them to cash in on later.
Custodianssay in the end, outsourcing could cost the district more. With more than 1,000 days in the bank, the school district could have to shell out more than $100,000 to the janitors.
Schoolofficials declined to comment on the sick bank yesterday because they were still in negotiations with the union.
Jim Durkin, a union representative from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, said it's not too late for the School Committee to "admit it made a mistake."
"The School Committee should be listening to what the community wants," Durkin said, adding that every teacher in the school district signed a petition to keep the custodians' jobs.
Many of the teachers expressed concern over bringing in workers at low wages resulting in more turnover and more strangers coming in and out of the schools.
"If these people lose their jobs, there are 1,051 labor households in Chelmsford under the AFSCME umbrella and we will make sure they all know what happened," Durkin said.
SchoolCommittee member Nick DeSilvio said the committee's decision ultimately came down to the bigger picture.
"I never knew what was offered as far as hourly rates were concerned," he said. "I had to look at the long run, and that was the impact to students. The cost savings will help the district do what we do best, and that's educate our kids."
Source: Boston Globe
As cities and states across the nation take aim at public employee pensions, Boston City Hall is engaged in a very different debate: how much to increase retirees’ checks.
Mayor Thomas M. Menino is proposing to boost the annual cost-of-living adjustment for most pensioners from $360 to $390, a $30 increase. City Council president Stephen J. Murphy is pushing for more, seeking a $90 increase over the current rate.
Other Massachusetts cities and towns have had similar debates. Last month in Brookline, voters rejected the advice of the Board of Selectmen and approved a pension increase akin to what Menino is proposing. In Hampden County last year, the retirement board that covers 18 towns enlarged the annual cost-of-living adjustment by $180.
In contrast, Maine lawmakers canceled all cost-of-living increases for three years for the roughly 37,000 beneficiaries in the state pension system. Last month, Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, called for a pause on cost-of-living increases for a decade. Residents in San Diego voted overwhelmingly to eliminate pensions for newly hired city employees - except police officers - and institute a 401(k) program.
But Massachusetts county retirement boards covering almost 200 cities and towns have approved larger pension checks by increasing the yearly cost-of-living adjustments, according to Ralph White, president of Mass Retirees, which represents the Commonwealth’s retired public employees.
“At first blush, it does look opposite to the trend,’’ said Jean-Pierre Aubry, assistant director of state and local research at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. “But Massachusetts differs from these other plans.’’
Unlike 70 percent of public sector workers nationally, municipal retirees in Massachusetts are not eligible for Social Security, which increases to keep up with inflation, Aubry said. But historically in Massachusetts, only the first $12,000 of a pension has been eligible for cost-of-living adjustments. That cap has kept increases comparatively low. In recent years, the increase has been 3 percent of $12,000, which added $360 a year to most retirees’ checks.
Public employees in Massachusetts contribute a share of each paycheck to the pension system, with the workers who make more than $30,000 putting in 11 percent. That is a much larger share than in many other states, which may explain the decision by some Massachusetts pension systems to increase payouts.
“It seems counterintuitive when you look at our brothers and sisters across the country,’’ said Joseph E. Connarton, executive director of the Public Employee Retirement Administration Commission.
“But our brothers and sisters nationally are not on the same page because our contributions have been higher and more consistent,’’ he said.
State lawmakers passed a slew of changes in recent years designed to stop pension abuses by some retirees. The moves pushed the minimum retirement age for some workers from 55 to 60; decreased some benefits; and adjusted the formula for pension payouts by basing them on employees’ last five years instead of three years.
Crucially, the changes also allowed cities and towns to increase the base for cost-of-living adjustments.
“It’s actually bringing it closer in line with the rest of the nation,’’ Aubry said. “The existing [cost-of-living adjustment] was very meager compared to others.’’
But Samuel R. Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, argues that it is “not fiscally prudent’’ for the city to promise to increase pensions in a fragile economy. Critics question whether pension funds can generate enough long-term revenue, plus there is the pressure of rising retiree health care costs.
“We’re looking at the bigger picture,’’ Tyler said.
The Boston Retirement Board voted, 4-1, last month to raise the base figure used to calculate annual increases, shifting it from $12,000 to $13,000. That means most retirees would see $390 a year more in their benefits checks, up from the current $360. The move still needs approval by the City Council, which is supposed to take up the issue Wednesday.
If that proposal is approved, it would cost $2.5 million next year, according to an analysis by the city’s actuary. That would grow to $21.4 million by 2025.
Murphy’s plan would boost the base rate for pension calculations to $15,000. That translates into a total cost-of-living adjustment of $450, a $90 increase over the current rate. That proposal would cost $7.3 million next year, according to the analysis. By 2025, the cost would mushroom to $63 million.
Murphy pointed out that Boston has weathered the fiscal crisis better than other large cities and is facing its first “breathing room budget’’ in several years.
“We could afford it,’’ Murphy said last week in an interview. “You have people that are retired that have gotten no or very little increase over a number of years. The longer they live, the closer they are getting to the poverty level.’’
The city has roughly 14,400 retirees with an average annual pension of roughly $33,000, according to the Boston Retirement Board. But as salaries have increased, so have pensions. A study by the Municipal Research Bureau found that for the 450 people who retired in 2009, the average pension was $49,480.
Many private companies now offer 401(k)s for retirement, which shift risk to employees, who can lose their investments when the economy falters. A pension system keeps the risk with the government, which is obligated to keep cutting checks for retirees and their beneficiaries.
“It’s guaranteed, irrespective of the city’s finances or market condition,’’ Tyler said.
Jim Durkin, spokesman for Council 93 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, rejected the suggestion that the city could not afford the $30 increase.
“This is not a budget buster by anyone’s standards,’’ said Durkin, whose union includes roughly 2,000 city workers. “It is an extra copay on somebody’s prescription drug plan. Thirty dollars is more of a gesture toward these retirees.
“It’s a positive and a well-deserved gesture,’’ Durkin said. “It’s recognition that they are not getting rich by any means on a public employee pension.’’
Andrew Ryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeandrewryan.
This year when you are admiring the holiday displays take a moment to remember the AFSCME Council 93 men and women who helped make that happen.
Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season!
Below is a list of communities where AFSCME Council 93 Members have helped set up holiday displays (if you would like to be added to this list please let us know!):
City of Springfield- Local 3065
Members of Local 3065 have been working since October 1st to string miles of lights to prepare Forest Park for Bright Nights 2017. https://www.brightnights.org/
City of Boston Locals 445, 296, and 804
Neighborhoods across Boston have trees, wreaths, lights, and decorations up for the holiday season.
This weekend is the Enchanted Trolley Tour to light the neighborhood trees! https://www.boston.gov/news/mayors-2017-enchanted-trolley-tour
Boston Common Tree Lighting was this Thursday and can be seen until New Years. https://www.boston.gov/calendar/2017-boston-common-tree-lighting
Town of Mansfield – Local 1702
The Light Department workers assisted with decoration across town. Decorating the North, South and East Commons as well as hanging wreaths and lights along S. Main Street, N. Main Street, West Street. They also decorated a large tree at the end of High Street at the intersection with N. Main Street.
City of New Bedford – Local 851
City of New Bedford workers placed wreaths, lights, and trees all across town. They even helped the library find, cut, and transport their tree. South Coast Today has the story highlighting the work that AFSCME members helped with http://www.southcoasttoday.com/news/20171128/new-bedford-finds-christmas-tree-after-challenging-search
Taunton Municipal Light Plant – TMLP – Local 1729
Local 1729 helped prepare for the 104th lighting on the Green Festival in Taunton. The lighting of the Green is on Saturday, Dec 2nd from 3 pm until 8 pm. Our members at TMLP will have a float in the Taunton Lights On Christmas Parade this year. https://www.taunton-ma.gov/sites/tauntonma/files/uploads/end_of_parade_directions.pdf
Town of West Bridgewater – Local 1700
They place the Christmas tree at Town Hall and decorate the tree, Town Hall and the gazebo that is in the parking lot of Town Hall. They decorate the trees in the center of Town and they also place wreaths at the library.
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