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School union members threaten labor charge
Several members of the Service Employees International Union are threatening to file a charge of unfair labor practices against the South Whidbey School district.
"We have attempted to deal with this administration in a fair and professional manner, but it is beginning to feel like it is the administration's way or no way," SEIU president Susan Slister read from a prepared statement during Monday's South Whidbey Board of Education meeting.
With the complaint came a threat to take SEIU's case to the state's Public Employees Relations Commission.
"We have instructed our union representative in Everett to begin the process of filing a series of unfair labor practice charges against this administration and the district," Slister said.
SEIU members are bus drivers, custodians, maintenance workers and cafeteria personnel for the school district. SEIU is affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
Following Slister's statement, about a dozen SEIU members, wearing their purple and gold union T-shirts and accompanied by family members, clapped in unison, then walked en masse out of the meeting.
As many SEIU members remained behind, several of whom spoke to the board in support of the administration and district and in disagreement with union leadership.
One of them was Jim Davis, a district bus driver since 1992.
"Not all of the union membership agrees with the action being taken," he said.
David Crane, a custodian on staff at South Whidbey High School, said his colleagues' protest and walkout made him ashamed of his union.
Following the meeting, Crane said he and a number of other union members believe a few people are using the union to grandstand for personal reasons. Both he and Davis agreed new union leadership would solve the problem.
"Some of our leaders are trying to get rid of people they don't want," said John Turner, another union member and a district groundskeeper since 1990.
Prior to the board meeting, Slister and her supporters met with SEIU organizing representative Patty Silveria. The statement Slister read was drafted at that meeting and approved by those present.
Assistant Superintendent Dan Blanton said Slister's statement and the walkout as surprising.
"This district, Superintendent Laster and the rest of the administration's bargaining team have been very supportive of the union," Blanton said. "It was thanks to Laster's efforts that members of SEIU were able to get a three-year contract, years in service steps with cost of living increases and new buses and vans for the transportation department."
The contract was almost unanimously approved by the membership, Blanton said.
Slister said one of her complaints with the district is the amount of time it took to respond to two grievances filed last summer.
Blanton said that, in fact, the district extended the time limit for the union because they missed a deadline.
Bus driver Tom Arhontas said he was unwilling to talk much, but he supported Slister's action.
"I am afraid of reprimand," Arhontas said.
Arhontas and Slister both said members of the union contacted board of education members by telephone and e-mail about their complaints prior to the meeting.
According to the SEIU office in Everett, if a charge is filed with the state agency, an investigator will be appointed to judge the merits of the charges. If there is merit, PERC can come up with a remedy such as a cease and desist order.