Leominster School District’s Custodian Union Alleges Administration Violated Labor Practices
LEOMINSTER -- If things weren’t messy enough concerning the custodial services in Leominster’s public schools, they just got messier.
The school district’s custodial union is threatening to file a state Labor Relations Board complaint -- its second this year -- after the city allegedly failed to meet some of the terms of their November agreement to rehire laid-off custodial staff.
The union’s threat coincides with The Durkin Co., which was hired in July to replace the previously laid-off union staff, announcing that it is going to sue the city for breach of contract after it was told its services will be terminated this week.
A Dec. 7 letter from a union official sent to interim Superintendent Paula Deacon -- obtained by the Sentinel & Enterprise on Tuesday -- outlines four alleged violations to conditions of the November agreement that led to the rehiring of 19 union custodians.
“Should steps not be taken to correct these violations immediately, the Union will have no choice but to file another Charge of Prohibited Practice with the Massachusetts Division of Labor Relations,” wrote union representative Nadine Kennedy.
When reached for comment Tuesday, Kennedy said she had yet to receive a response to her letter and that if she didn’t hear from the school district by Jan.1 she would file the “prohibited practice” complaint with the state.
The union alleges their agreement with the school district has been violated by not reimbursing non-returning union custodians for unused vacation time, Emerald Green Building Services employees (who work for The Durkin Co.) remaining on-site, and one union custodian having to work a shift that doesn’t match the hours stipulated in the agreement.
According to Kennedy, the union is also alleging the district is violating the agreement by no longer advertising several open custodial positions. When the union negotiated the return of the junior custodians, 24 were allowed back, but, due to retirements and employees finding work elsewhere, only 19 returned.
The union claims the five remaining jobs should be filled by new employees, who would then be allowed to enter the union.
“The agreement was for 24. A posting went up, a posting went down. From what we can see, this work is now being done by Emerald Green and that’s not what our agreement was,” Kennedy said.
There were 27 junior custodians, roughly 80 percent of the total staff, laid off earlier this year in favor of hiring employees from the cheaper, private company Emerald Green, which is part of The Durkin Co. Dissatisfaction with school cleanliness and public pressure led to the School Committee voting to reinstate the laid off union employees in October.
The committee was also motivated by a recent investigation by the state Department of Labor Relations that found probable cause to believe violations could have taken place in terminating the contracts of the union employees earlier in the year.
The union agreed to withdraw their first case with the Division of Labor Services when they were rehired.
In her 15 years of working with unions in the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Kennedy said having to file two complaints in such a short span of time is “extremely rare.”
“I’ve been doing this for 15 years and have never had to do this,” she said. “I’m not sure what the School Committee is thinking, but I’m quite confident that a charge (of prohibited practice) will be issued again.”
As the city and school district face the possibility of a second charge of prohibited practice filed against them this year by the union, they’re simultaneously grappling with a lawsuit from The Durkin Co.
Company owner Dan Durkin said Wednesday that he is going to sue the city for breach of contract after he was sent a Dec. 22 letter from interim Superintendent Deacon notifying him that his company’s work in Leominster would end as of Dec. 29. The letter also said the company would be paid $51,948 for their work this month, which Durkin argues is $27,752 short of the amount he is owed, according to the contract he signed with former superintendent Jim Joliecoeur in July.
The lower amount reflects Emerald Green decreasing their local staff from 23 to 10 employees last month, though they were still paid the full $79,700 for their work in November.
Mayor Dean Mazzarella has maintained in recent weeks that the agreement between the district and The Durkin Co. is not a valid contract because it was not signed by him or the city’s purchasing agent. Despite this, the district has paid The Durkin Co. monthly for their services at the rate agreed upon in the disputed contract.
Repeated attempts for a comment about the letter from interim Superintendent Deacon or Mayor Mazzarella Tuesday and Wednesday were unsuccessful.
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