Members of the Civil Service Employees Independent Association of the Tonawanda city schools came to the regular Board of Education meeting Tuesday night to try to settle problems that have been brewing in public for the last few months.
The union – representing engineers, custodial and clerical employees – has expressed concern about the lack of staffing in the district but said that those concerns have fallen on deaf ears in the past. Union representatives brought the issue to the public at a School Board meeting in August and hoped to meet with the board to discuss the communication problem.
“If we can get there with increased communication, the union will be extremely satisfied,” said union attorney Richard D. Furlong. “Communication is the way to go. It’s the only way to go.”
At the heart of the union’s concerns is a series of staffing cuts that members had to endure during the last few years. The CSEIA has previously conceded wage increases to the district in an attempt to save money, but now staffers are feeling overworked after taking over the responsibilities of departed employees.
“You’ve got people right now at their breaking point,” Furlong said. “They don’t want to come to work. You have increased work and a diminished workforce.”
Several board members said they were unaware of the issue prior to the union raising it in public.
“Prior to that, there were board members who had no idea [there was a problem],” said board President Jackie A. Smilinich. “We do appreciate everything the union does.”
Union representatives said that their intention is not to ask for a raise in their contract, which expires in 2016, but that they are feeling the workload pressure. Furlong said some board members, and one of the spouses, have approached union employees about their public comments. Scott E. Spooner, a stationary engineer for the district, explained that their union members are the lowest-paid in the district, yet they are usually targeted for cuts in budget season.
“With limited manpower, everyone is expected to do more, yet this building is just as large and – with upcoming [capital] projects – going to get larger,” Spooner said. “Our staff has been cut to the point where we can no longer effectively cover for absences of our own people.”
The board decided to meet with union representatives in executive session after the meeting.
“We want to work this out between us,” said board member Lynn M. Casal.