Personnel staff ratifies contract

By Shannon Smith

Champaign Educational Support Personnel members ratified the school board’s proposed three-year contract Saturday, bringing the conflict between the union and the school board closer to resolution.

The Champaign School Board members proposed the contract Tuesday night, with greater wages and benefits, in an effort to avert a strike and settle negotiations with union members.

“A lot of people were worried about the contract,” said Jimmie McDonald, head custodian at Kenwood Elementary School. “There was a lot of talk going around.”

However, after reviewing the proposals, union members voted 198 to 12 in favor of ratifying the contract.

Joanne Wirth, library clerk at Kenwood Elementary School, said union members were very pleased with the contract.

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    “I really appreciate all the work that the negotiation team did and the way the union stuck together,” Wirth said. “I think the outcome was worth it.”

    Wirth said one of the chief negotiation points concerned the living wage increase of the lowest-paid workers, which includes bus monitors, bakers, cooks and cafeteria workers.

    “I think the goal was met,” Wirth said. “Moving them from seven dollars an hour to nine is a big increase. I think everyone was happy for them.”

    Tom Grimsey, president of the Champaign Educational Service Professionals, said the contract also addressed other needs, including the percentage increase for retirement funds and increase in life insurance policies. He said health insurance was particularly difficult to get resolved.

    “That’s a big issue at all times for us,” Grimsey said. “With the cost of health insurance rising, it makes it more difficult to bargain that part of the contract.”

    Wirth said that while it is difficult to negotiate, the end proposal was fair.

    “Health insurance is difficult to negotiate because that takes money out of our check,” Wirth said. “I think they said they were going to increase it by 15 percent or a maximum of $340. I think that would cover most everybody’s plan. It was a fair increase.”

    Grimsey said he was pleased with the turnout for the meeting and that most members present were generally satisfied with the contract.

    “I was pleased with the ratification meeting,” Grimsey said. “I wasn’t pleased with the process overall. We could have used more cooperation from the school board. But we got there and that’s what counts.”

    Wirth agreed that the whole process was long-winded. She said it was the union’s unification in its decisions that provided the strength they needed to pull through.

    “I think they really stuck together,” Wirth said. “That was so important … We had been to a point we had never been before. I really think it worked out, although I think it could have been done months earlier.”

    McDonald said he is confident that the negotiations have strengthened the union.

    “I think they even got new members to sign up through the course of the contract,” McDonald said.

    Grimsey said the school board still needs to meet and vote on the contract to finalize it. He said the board has planned a meeting Thursday evening and hopes that they will include the contract on the agenda.

    Kathleen Fox, library clerk at Carrie Busey Elementary School, said that the negotiations are not over until they are over. There is still a chance that the school board could vote against the contract.

    “I don’t see how it could,” Fox said. “But nothing has gone as it should have. Until it’s signed a done deal and approved, I guess we’ll be a little skeptical.”