By CRISTINA JANNEY
The Hays USD 489 school board Monday night in a split vote moved to table a resolution to opt out of negotiations with the custodian’s union.
The board was set to vote on a resolution to opt out of the Public Employer-Employee Relations Act, which covers negotiations with the Service Employees International Union. Instead it voted 4-3 to table the motion until its April 30 meeting.
If the board were to vote to opt out of PEERA between now and the end of June, it still will have to negotiate with SEIU for the 2018-19 budget year. After the end of June, the district would have to wait another year to opt of negotiations.
Board member Luke Oborny said he did not want the union to lose its voice.
“In two to five years, I may vote the opposite,” he said. “I think the culture right now is there is distrust in the board. I think there were changes we had in December that didn’t sit well with some people. I think with the that culture right now, it doesn’t feel like the right thing to do.”
In December, the district voted to change insurance providers from a state plan administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield to one administered by Aetna. SEIU initially opposed the change and sent a letter to the district saying it could be open to lawsuits if it made the change. That prompted the board to ask to the administration to put a PEERA discussion on a future agenda.
Board president Lance Bickle said no time is a good time to make a decision like this. He said he thought the district had consistently given similar benefits to classified staff, regardless of union membership, as it has given to teachers.
Twenty-six employs in the district are covered under SEIU negotiations. The union has 18 members. This is compared to more than 200 classified employees not covered by a union.
Board member Paul Adams said he wanted the district to continue to negotiate with the custodians union. He said he thought it was important the custodians continue to have a voice. However, he said he had some concerns about SEIU.
“From a leadership aspect, I think what they wanted was unclear. They went to the left and right, and it did not seem to be what the custodians needed or wanted. It seemed spiteful in some ways,” he said.
Adams also said he had to perform custodial duties in the fall to help his wife prepare her classroom for the students. He said in the future he wanted to make sure staff members were available to perform those duties in all buildings.
Board member Mike Walker also said he would support continued negotiations with the union.
“I think union representation encourages the best workers to apply for a job,” he said. “I also think representation encourages due process rules to be followed.”
Board member Greg Schwartz said in general he supports unions, noting his father helped organize the firefighters union in Hays. On this issue, however, he said he was on the fence.
“I think unions are a good thing,” he said, “but I don’t think it is beneficial to the district to remain in this.”
Sophia Rose Young said she supported continued negotiations with the union.
“I think with the changes this school year and the cross training that was added, it is too much change. I think it is not wise to do this to this group of hardworking and dedicated staff,” she said.
Schwartz moved to delay a decision on the vote, board members, Young, Walker and Adams voted against the motion to table.
Esau Freeman, SEIU representative, said after the vote he wished the board would have voted to stay in PEERA instead of tabling the issue.
“I think they have moved it down the road a little bit. We will give it some time and see how they feel about it. I think that will give us a little time to talk about how we can work better together and what miscommunications led to the hurt feelings this fall,” he said.