City Council: School custodian, secretary copays too small compared to city workers

City Council: School custodian, secretary copays too small compared to city workers

PAWTUCKET – Members of the Pawtucket City Council are questioning the wisdom of a new contract for non-teaching school employees that they say could make it much more difficult to negotiate with other workers.

Council President David Moran said he and others still have concerns that need to be addressed about a two-year contract for members of the of the Local 1352 of Council 94 AFSCME, AFL-CIO, a pact that has already been approved by the Pawtucket School Committee.

Of particular concern is a proposed health care copay of just 5 percent, said Moran, a number that could hamper negotiations with city unions. School officials are also in contract talks with the Pawtucket Teachers Alliance.

“I do have concerns over the 5 percent copay as all other unions will be watching this closely that are currently in ongoing negotiations and contributing a higher copay,” said Moran.

City teachers are paying 10 percent as their copayment toward health care, while non-union city employees are paying 25 percent. No one else is paying less than 8 percent.

By increasing the health care copay from 3.19 percent to 5 percent for non-teaching personnel in the new contract, school officials say they’re saving $59,470.

This is the first school contract up for consideration since the City Council approved new rules back in 2011 to require all contracts in the city, including school ones, to go through them. Members last Wednesday postponed a vote on the contract as they seek more information on its specifics.

Moran and members of the City Council’s finance committee “want to make sure we do our due diligence and get it right the first time, as the next contract will be coming up in the near future for our review and request for ratification,” said the council president.

Debra Findlay, president of the Local 1352, declined to discuss specifics of the pending contract.

The Local 1352 is made up of 188 workers, including 50 custodians, 54 elementary teacher assistants, 30 high school teacher assistants, including two interpreters, 40 clerks, five building maintenance workers, six equipment operators, one interpreter supervisor, one network technician, and one stockroom clerk.

Moran asked school administrators at a meeting last week how much non-teaching school workers are paying for copays in other Rhode Island communities with school districts of similar size. The written answer from Supt. Deborah Cylke and Chief Financial Officer Melissa Devine was that copays in Cranston and Warwick, as well as the much larger Providence district, are all between 15 and 20 percent.

“True comparisons of benefits must include wages for similar jobs, length of workday, and other defined benefits outlined in contracts,” wrote Cylke and Devine in a memo to the council. “The Pawtucket School Department Local 1352 employees have not had a salary increase in four years. This proposed contract does not include any salary increase, and therefore if approved means there will be six years without a salary increase.”

Cylke could not be reached for comment.

There is no across-the-board salary increase for members of the Local 1352, but there are $1 and $2 increases in hourly wages for some custodians, who would have new job descriptions, and head secretaries.

Step increases, where employees get extra pay as they climb the seniority ranks, would also kick in for veteran workers. All step-five employees would move to a new step six in the first year of the contract. Step-six employees would move to a new step seven in year two and step-five employees would move to step six.

Employees with a state certification would receive a $350 stipend in year one and a $500 stipend in year two.

Moran said Cylke’s response to the council does not give enough specifics on why the situation for Pawtucket school employees is different from workers in Warwick and Cranston. Cylke noted some “structural changes” on seniority, said Moran, but did not adequately explain financial savings from the changes. Council members “are still following up for those answers,” said Moran.

Comments

Most people in the private sector receiving health care benefits are paying closer to 20-30%. Sorry school department, the taxpayers cannot afford to keep you in a special class of society. As for the school department not getting any salary raises in the past 4-6 years: have you seen how much they are getting? A physical education teacher in the Pawtucket school system gets over $70000 per year (summers off) plus pension contribution plus health benefits. Many (maybe most) Pawtucket teachers make $70000 and up. They are over payed now and should not be given a raise. I want lower taxes (they are too high) and we need to cut the fat.