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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Nashua School District custodial union files grievance over Fidelity volunteers painting

NASHUA – For the last four years, a group of more than 100 volunteers from Fidelity have taken over a local school, painting murals and hallways, building classroom storage units and sprucing up the property.

It’s work that drew praise from school officials, but ire from members of the district’s custodial union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 365. ...

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NASHUA – For the last four years, a group of more than 100 volunteers from Fidelity have taken over a local school, painting murals and hallways, building classroom storage units and sprucing up the property.

It’s work that drew praise from school officials, but ire from members of the district’s custodial union, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 365.

The union brought their concerns to the Board of Education on Monday night in the form of a class action grievance, stating that the district has, on more than one occasion, violated the contract with custodial union members by allowing volunteers to paint in city schools.

The Board of Education did not rule on the grievance Monday night. Instead, members will review the documentation presented by attorneys for the union and the district, and come back together at a later date to make a ruling.

The grievance was filed May 6, arguing that the district permitted volunteers to do work that should have been performed by the custodial union, including painting, during the Fidelity Transformation Day projects at Elm Street Middle School that began in 2010.

The union waited to file the grievance, said chief steward Jason Guerette, because union members first brought the issue to the district’s joint labor management committee. When talks broke down, he said, the grievance was filed.

The grievance was denied by Superintendent Mark Conrad on July 1, saying the district followed proper procedure, and that the union waited too long, nearly four years, to grieve the issue.

On Monday, city attorney Stephen Bennett echoed those arguments, saying union members had actually worked with and provided oversight for volunteers when the work was done.

“The only thing that has changed is union leadership,” Bennett said. “The facts have not changed. The union approved this work, and it continued right through until this year.”

The arguments presented by both sides are complex, with the union and the district disagreeing about various agreements between the two parties, and how they apply to volunteer work done in city schools.

But the basis of the grievance is simple: “It’s about painting,” said Steven Lyons, of AFSCME Council 93.

Painting work by volunteers is not a new issue for the union and the school district.

In 2005, an arbitrator sided with the union after a grievance, saying that volunteers should not be painting in a city school because the work falls under the union’s agreement with the district.

In 2008, volunteer work became an issue again, when the union filed a grievance over teachers painting their classrooms at Elm Street. Once again, the grievance was settled on the side of the union.

Two years later, the issue arose at Fairgrounds Elementary school, after the principal started to paint his own office. The union grieved the issue and won again.

No grievance had been filed regarding volunteer paint work until May, but emails provided by the union during Monday’s hearing show that volunteer painting was a frequent topic of discussion between plant operations director Shawn Smith and union representatives over the last few years.

Among the discussions was the volunteer work done by Fidelity employees as part of their annual Transformation Day event.

Since 2010, the volunteers have painted, done landscaping, and other work at Elm Street Middle School. This summer, the project moved to Mt. Pleasant Elementary School.

In April 2012, volunteer painting was added to the agenda for meetings of the joint labor management committee. When talks broke down a year later, the union filed the class action grievance.

The custodial union regularly files more grievances than any other district union.

In the 2009-10 school year, for example, 16 grievances were filed by the various district bargaining units. All but one were filed by the custodial union.

In February 2012, an arbitrator ruled that custodians couldn’t be required to watch cement dry, after several at Elm Street Middle School were asked to watch over a set of new concrete panels in 2010.

In January, the board ruled that shredding confidential documents should be added to the list of things the district’s custodians won’t be required to do after a grievance was filed arguing the work was outside a custodian’s job description.

The grievance regarding volunteer paint work will continue at a later date, after board members have had time to review the documentation provided by the union and the district.

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (@Telegraph_DC).