Tensions were high at the Ellwood City School Board meeting this morning between School Board Member, formerly School Board President, Renee Pitrelli and her fellow School Board peers.
The Board voted to approve the negotiations update press release, written by the board attorney, in a roll call vote with Pitrelli voting against it and school board member Matthew Morella absent.
The official release is below:
“Ellwood City Area School District Negotiations Update, November 1, 2017
To provide the public with accurate information regarding the status and progress of
the negotiations between the School District and the Service Employees International
Union (SEIU), Local 32BJ (hereinafter referred to as “Union”), the Board is posting this
Negotiations Update which summarizes the Board’s efforts to reach a new Collective
Bargaining Agreement with the Union.
• Since January 2017, the Board has attempted to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining
Agreement with the District’s custodians, cafeteria employees, instructional assistants
and clerical employees all of which are represented by the Union. The parties have
held multiple negotiation sessions with little progress to date.
• On October 12, 2017, the Board posted a Negotiations Update on the School District’s
website. In this Update, it detailed the potential cost savings of over $2,000.000.00 if
the District were to subcontract its Cafeteria and Custodial services for the next three
In response to the Board’s Negotiations Update, the SEIU Union has decided to
continue the Union’s attacks upon the Board members and their efforts to reach an
affordable Collective Bargaining Agreement that meets the needs of the School
District. The Board members have consistently worked with the State-appointed
mediator and the Union to schedule multiple bargaining sessions. At no time have the
Board members or their representative refused to meet with the Union or schedule
additional bargaining sessions.
• It is unfortunate that the Union continues to devote more time and energy to misleading
the public while, at the same time, devoting almost no effort towards reaching a fair
and affordable Collective Bargaining Agreement with the School District. The recent
actions of the Union further illustrate why the Board should consider subcontracting if
the parties continue to be at an impasse.
The Board has received numerous questions from the public regarding the wages and
benefits provided to the existing employees. The following information regarding the
wages and benefits provided to the existing employees under the current Collective
Bargaining Agreement is as follows:
The District’s average custodial wage is $22.09 per hour. The average hourly rate of
eight other districts as reported in the Midwestern Intermediate Unit Salary Survey is
$16.11. The District’s average cafeteria wage is $14.87 per hour. The average hourly
rate of eight other districts as reported in the Midwestern Intermediate Unit Salary
Survey is $13.14.
The benefit package for the custodial and cafeteria groups include life, disability, and
vision, medical and dental insurance. In addition, the district currently contributes
32.57% of wages to the employees’ pension program and provides paid sick, personal,
vacation and holiday pay.
The average hourly cost per custodial employee is $37.27 and the average hourly cost
per cafeteria employee is $27.29.
Employee premium contribution for an HMO program is $0.00 on a monthly basis and
$25.00 for the PPO program.
Lead negotiator for the Board, Tom Breth, indicated “Board members have a
responsibility to prudently spend taxpayer money. This responsibility requires board
members to consider less expensive options that meet both the educational and
operational needs of the District.”
“I don’t want my name to be associated with these jabs [specifically referring to the last bullet point],” Pitrelli stated during the meeting. “I believe the public should know the facts but some of this is not factual or necessary and is quite frankly, inflammatory. We are trying to set an example for our students and being rude and unprofessional is not the way to do that.”
Pitrelli asked the committee to approve an amendment allowing the statement to be rewritten with her name at the bottom stating she did not support all the information in the update, but no one seconded her amendment.
“We had this meeting specifically because not everyone agreed with the update and didn’t want their name associated with it,” Pitrelli said.
Absentee Matthew Morella was the other member who didn’t agree with all of the publicized information, and he provided the following statement in response:
“On October 26, 2017, I received an email indicating a statement would be sent to the press as a rebuttal to the October 21st Ellwood City Ledger article in which the Service Employees International Union accused the district of holding up contract negotiations.
A special meeting held this morning, October 31, 2017, at 8:30 a.m. approved the rebuttal.
The rebuttal claims:
- ECASD has attempted to negotiate a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the SEIU since January 2017 with little progress to date.
- The Board posted a Negotiations Update on October 12, 2017, which detailed potential cost savings of over $2 million if the District were to subcontract its Cafeteria and Custodial services for the next three years.
- The Board members have continued to put forth the necessary effort to reach an affordable agreement with the SEIU.
- Accuses the SEIU of misleading the public instead of negotiating in good faith.
- The recent actions of the Union illustrate why the Board should consider subcontracting if the parties continue to be at an impasse.
Points 1 and 2 are accurate, however I am forced to take issue with 3-5.
- While it is true that the Board has put forth “the necessary effort,” this statement is both misleading and incomplete.
- When negotiations began, I requested to be on the negotiations team.
- Knowing the District’s goals, and given my relationship with many members of the union, I believed I could make a significant contribution to a fair and affordable agreement. My request was denied.
- I was told that since I had an election coming up, I should not participate in the negotiations because they could become a political issue. I was shocked that this was a determinative factor. Even when I informed the Board that I did not plan to seek reelection in 2017, I was still barred from participation. The question is why?
- Despite being an elected member of the board, I have been relegated to watching the District waste over $12,000 of taxpayers’ money in its effort to take good jobs from our hard-working neighbors.
- I expressed at the time my belief that the board’s threats and strong-arm tactics would not work. I insisted that the threat of privatizing the jobs would send a devastating and divisive ripple through our community. I was right.
- The fact is that most school districts in this state face a dreary economic future. Mandated pension contributions will be nearly a third of many public schools’ budgets in the next five years. This is a problem that was created by the state. It is NOT a problem that will be solved by taking jobs from our friends and neighbors.
- However, the issue now is that the current board seeks to fix the mistakes of past boards. The SEIU has seen exceptional pay and benefit increases over the past 12-15 years. I commend the current effort by the board, but we need not forget how we arrived at this position.
- Comparatively, SEIU jobs in the Ellwood City Area School District pay well and offer a solid benefits package. It is no surprise that the hardworking people of our District are fighting diligently for their jobs, their livelihoods, and their futures.
- Each side in this negotiation wants to come to a fair and affordable agreement, but each sees different ways to get there. The threat of outsourcing these jobs will force the union to dig its heels deeper, thus continuing the impasse. Perhaps this is the board’s goal, thus allowing it to use the impasse to privatize these jobs. This is not what I want and it is not, I believe, what the citizens of the district want. I believe we all want these good jobs and good people to stay in Ellwood City. I believe we all want our community to be proud of their work; work that impacts our students in exceptional ways.
- Only when the entire community comes together for this common purpose can we accomplish the challenges of today.
I have one month remaining in my term. I hope that this message puts pressure on the Board, the SEIU, and the community to work with me to reach a fair and affordable agreement that works for us all.”
The Board and Union are still working to find an appropriate solution to the bargaining agreement.
“I’m hopeful we can reach an agreement on the matter and find a solution that is good for both our budget and our valued employees,” Pitrelli stated.
Months ago Pitrelli decided to step down from the president position specifically because she felt as though by being the president she was unable to voice her opinion as much as the rest of the committee.
Pitrelli is seeking reelection along with other members Kathy Pansera and Anthony Buzzelli, Morella is the only one not seeking reelection in the upcoming election on November 7.