School Board approves contract with support workers
November 02, 2011 - By Joe St. Henry
Lake Orion's Board of Education last week approved a new contract with AFSCME Local 1472.
Covering a total of 250 para-professionals, staff associates, bus drivers, custodial/maintenance personnel and cafeteria workers, the three-year agreement is retroactive to July 1, 2010, and runs through June 30, 2013.
The school district's Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Larry Lobert said he appreciated the union negotiators' collaborative spirit and problem-solving approach to finalizing the deal.
"The union stepped up and we put this contract together in a reasonable period of time," he said.
Mary Cottrill, AFSCME Local 1472 chairperson, agreed that both sides worked collaboratively to develop the contract and it "worked well" in the end.
"We've always been willing to do what is needed for the kids," she said. "All of the jobs in the district play an important role in education. We were in limbo before, but I'm now confident that the district is behind us."
District support staffers indeed made concessions, especially in regard to health care coverage.
Starting Dec. 1, the district will fully implement the hard cap on health insurance put in place by the State of Michigan earlier this year. This effectively limits the district's spending on health insurance to a set amount, with only the state allowed to change this figure.
The annual cap has been set at $5,500 for a single employee; $11,500 for a couple; and $15,000 for a family.
"The hard cap allowed the union to shop for the best value in health care coverage for its money," Lobert said. "The process went very well, with the union focused on expenses."
The assistant superintendent said Local 1472 members secured a "decent" Blue Cross Blue Shield plan. It does feature higher deductibles and significant co-pays. Employees with dependents will pay an average of $2,000 out of their own pockets each year, he said.
The support workers were the first group in the district to structure a contract under the healthcare hard cap.
"This is a new plan, so our members have questions now about how it works, but that was to be expected," Cottrill said.
Lobert said the combination of a hard cap and insurance reductions will save the district $975,000 annually. In addition, union members accepted a three percent pay reduction for the 2012-2013 school year, equating to savings of $160,000 for the district, he said.
"This contract was all about money and saving dollars," Lobert said. "If you include the remaining seven months or so of this school year and all of next through the end of the contract, we expect to realize $1.8 million in cost avoidances and savings from where we were a month ago."
Cottrill said AFSCME Local 1472 members are fully aware of the financial pressures facing school districts across the state.
"We're just trying to do our part," she said.