Boulder Valley Bus Drivers, Other Hourly Workers Upset Over Stalled Contract Negotiations

December 14, 2018
Boulder Valley School District bus driver David Mellon prepares his bus for his afternoon route Thursday at the Boulder terminal off Arapahoe Road.

Boulder Valley bus drivers and assistants are speaking out over stalled contract negotiations, saying they don’t feel valued.

Yolanda Trujillo, who has worked as a bus assistant in Boulder Valley for 12 years, told the school board this week that she also works two more part-time jobs and still has to live with her parents.

“I feel we aren’t respected, considering the importance of our jobs,” she said.

District officials had hoped they were close to a tentative agreement with the classified group, which includes about 700 employees in transportation, food services, security, custodial, maintenance and the print shop.

But on Thursday evening, they received notice that the Boulder Valley Classified Employees Association has opted to send the matter to fact finding, according to an email from district spokesman Randy Barber. Fact finding, per Barber’s email, will involve an independent arbitrator, agreed upon by both the district and the association, reviewing the situation and providing a recommendation to the school board.

Both the Boulder Valley Classified Employees Association and the district agree that employee wages should be in the 75th percentile range of the average wages paid for the same positions in neighboring school districts.

That’s the same standard the district uses for all employees.

But there is disagreement on how to pay the cost of raising the salaries of those who fall below that target range, which district officials say is the catalyst for sending the matter to fact-finding.

The district wants to see the cost, estimated at about $350,000, come out of the money that would go to a cost-of-living raise. The employees want the district to add that money to the compensation package.

The district’s goal is to reach agreements on employee contracts by May, putting the classified agreement about seven months behind schedule.

The district is offering the group a 3.4 percent cost-of-living increase plus “step” increases for experience, which combined will cost the district about $1.28 million. Classified employees received a step increase in August and will receive the 3.4 percent cost-of-living adjustment in their December paycheck, retroactive to Aug. 1, according to Barber.

While all employees in the group receive a cost-of-living raise, not all qualify for increases for experiences. Depending on the job, experience increases are given between six and nine times.

Mike Gradoz, assistant superintendent of human resources, said the district values its support staff and appreciates the work they do for students, but needs to stay within its budget and give raises that are sustainable.

“We can only give what we can afford,” he said.

Bus drivers speaking at Tuesday’s school board meeting took issue with overall wages and the fact that they’re eligible to receive experiences wages just six times throughout their career.

Jane Fastenau, a bus driver for nine years, said she’s “a constant in an inconsistent world for many children.”

She said she’s dropped off groceries at the homes of students who seem to be going hungry, bought supplies for a special needs student and wept with a high school sports team after a tough loss.

“We’re not RTD,” she said. “We interact with the children in positive ways. I hope that you value us.”

Driver Joe Mason said the current process for negotiating contracts seems to be broken given several years of issues. Low wages, he added, are hurting the district’s ability to retain drivers.

“I really want to do this job, but I don’t know that I can financially,” he said.

Under the current agreement, bus assistants start at about $15 an hour and drivers at about $18. Their salaries, not including cost-of-living raises, max out at $19.41 and $22.06 an hour, respectively.

Cafeteria workers start at $12.33 an hour. Custodians, depending on their responsibilities, start at $14.24 or $15 an hour.

Gradoz said the district plans to work with a consultant to analyze wages for its support staff jobs and provide suggestions before negotiations start back up in the spring for the 2019-20 school year.

Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, boundsa@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/boundsa

Update hourly