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School employees speak out loudly

South Whidbey School district bus drivers picketed Monday night in front of South Whidbey Intermediate School, hoping the South Whidbey Board of Education would take notice.

The picketing took place on a night when the board declared March 8 through 12 as “Recognition of Classified Employees Week.” But that declaration was not enough.

Carrying signs calling for “respect and teamwork,” the 15 bus drivers and one mechanic, all members of the Service Employees International Union Local 925 say the district has failed to honor their union contract by ignoring grievances from employees. Patty Silvera, a representative of Local 925 from Lynnwood, told the board that the picketing was informational, but urged the board to “walk the talk,” referring to the resolution to honor Local 925 employees.

“There are problems here and we need some help resolving 19 grievances, three requests for arbitration and two unfair labor practices charges,” she said.

Silvera likened the picketing to a flare going up as a signal for help.

Picketers said in a handout that alleged that many district transportation employees have expressed fear of retaliation for calling in sick. The handout also accused the district of practicing favoritism.

Silvera said the board members were made aware of these problems but have not acted to resolve the issues.

The contract is written such that the grievance process begins with a supervisor. If both parties agree, an unsolved grievance can be taken to the next level, which in the South Whidbey district is Assistant Superintendent Dan Blanton.

Blanton said he has close to 19 grievances on his desk.

“The main issues are surrounding two employees,” Blanton said.

Outside of the grievances being dealt with in Blanton’s office, there are none pending at the direct supervisor level in the transportation department. Contacted on Tuesday morning, Margaret Evans, the district’s transportation supervisor, said that if there are grievances out there, they have not yet been filed with her.

“I have no grievances at the supervisor level which is step one in the filing process,” she said. “That’s the way it is written in their contract.”

Employees in the SEIU union include bus drivers, mechanics, food service workers, maintenance and utility crews.

The district’s contract with these employees expires in August 2004.

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