Custodial union's grievances shot down Nashua school board unanimously rejected all six complaints

NASHUA – At a hearing held earlier this week, the school board shot down a slew of grievances from by the custodial union.

Board members heard arguments from union representatives Bob Trudell and members of the administration over eight different alleged infractions. The union had brought the complaints to administration, which had rejected the grievances.

The next step in the process was for the complaints to be heard by the school board. In total, six separate grievances were heard at the meeting Tuesday night. However, the school board ultimately voted unanimously to reject all of them, board President Tom Vaughan said.

At times during the hearing, some board members showed frustration, questioning the validity of the complaints the union had brought forward.

“You’re postulating about things that may happen,” said board member Jack Kelley. “I’ve sat here for two hours and listed to you smash administration.”

Shawn Smith, director of plant operations, called some of the union’s complaints “frivolous.” There are 135 employees covered by the union.

The grievances heard at the meeting covered a wide range of claims, including:

Employees who work at two schools not being reimbursed for mileage for traveling between the schools. Trudell said that some custodians are assigned to two schools, but they are not compensated for their travel between buildings.

Jim Mealey, the district’s chief operating officer, said that working at multiple buildings is a condition of employment when people are hired. It’s understood that employees are to provide their own transportation to each building, he said.

“Mileage is for when you are asked to do school business outside of your usual job,” he said.

Managers delivering equipment to schools, a job that Trudell argued should to be left to union employees. Trudell said there was a full-time driver responsible for delivery, but the position had been cut in half.

Trudell said when he filed his complaint, he got a letter back saying management sometimes has to get “its hands dirty.”

“Management doesn’t have to get its hands dirty,” Trudell said. “They don’t do our work.”

Mealey said there have been instances where management has crossed the line, but in this instance, the manager was on his way to one of the schools. The delivery truck had already left, so the manager brought a wire over to a school he was already going to.

“There’s got to be some flexibility,” he said.

Custodians not being brought in to cover a practice during the weekend. Trudell said custodians have always been brought in to cover sports practices on the weekends so they can clean up afterward.

In this instance, John Nelson, principal at Fairgrounds Middle School, had come in over a weekend and let the school’s basketball team into the building for practice.

Trudell said that if a custodian isn’t brought in to work overtime on the day of the practice, then the cleanup is left for Monday morning.

Mealey said it is up to management to determine whether custodial coverage is required for a specific event over the weekend.

“That’s a decision we need to make,” he said. “It’s not a contract violation if we do or don’t (call in a custodian).”

Changing filters in the HVAC systems in some schools. Trudell argued that the district has HVAC technicians that can change the filters in the systems.

Mealey said it may be more ideal for the technicians to do it, but the district has been having the custodians do it, which he argued is a decision that is up to management.

“If we choose to have them do it, we’re not violating the contract,” he said.

Employees being asked to deal with recyclable material. Trudell said that is custodians are required to differentiate between trash and recyclable material, it will mean less work will get done.

“It’s not part of our job to recycle,” Trudell said. “It’s to pick up trash.”

However, administrators said custodians are not being asked to separate recyclable materials. Students and teachers at the schools collect the materials and they are put into one central bin, said Shawn Smith, director of plant operations.

“All we asked this person to do was to take (the bin) out to the curb so the department of public works could pick it up,” he said.

One grievance was heard in a non-public session because it dealt with a disciplinary action against a specific employee.

The custodial union has been working without a new contract since August of 2006, which also means their wages have been frozen in that time. The school board and the union have come to an agreement on a new deal, but it has yet to be considered by the board of aldermen.