June 23, 2017

Rockford school bus drivers block privatization, ratify contract

Bus drivers at Rockford Public Schools District 205, members of AFSCME Local 1275, overwhelmingly voted to ratify a new union contract with school district management on May 26, blocking the board’s privatization scheme and ensuring that school bus operations will remain in public hands.

After refusing to negotiate with its employees for months on end, the Rockford School Board voted on May 9 to negotiate instead with a for-profit company, Ohio-based First Student. The board was moving rapidly to outsource school bus operations and was also seeking bids to outsource nutrition services.

Although bargaining sessions have continued over the past months, it’s been very clear that the board had no intention of moving off its previous position on health insurance and wages.

Given the very limited time before which the outsourcing deal would move forward, a strong majority of school bus drivers wanted to formally accept the board’s terms so that their union contract would be in place. Under state law, privatization is barred when a union contract is in effect.

While some employees will pay higher costs for health insurance in this three-year agreement, it also raises wages. And most importantly, this contract should put to rest all discussion of outsourcing bus service to a private operator.

“AFSCME members have made it clear all along that we are ready to bargain in good faith and make compromises,” said Ashley Smith, a school bus driver and president of Local 1275. “We decided to ratify this contract to ensure we keep bus operations in the hands of the people and continue providing excellent services for Rockford’s children.”

The board ratified the union contract at its June 13 meeting where they also voted against privatizing with First Student.

The agreement only pertains to school bus drivers. No agreement has been reached for the paraprofessionals or nutrition services staff. The two bargaining committees continue to meet with management with the assistance of a federal mediator.

“We must keep fighting to ensure that public services remain public and accountable to the people of Rockford,” said AFSCME Council 31 Staff Representative Edward Sadlowski. “We will not stop working to make these critical positions good jobs that can sustain families and build a better future for RPS employees and for the entire community.”

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