Appellate court upholds Unit 5's contract to outsource bus services

By Maria Nagle, The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

June 07--NORMAL -- An appeals court has reversed an earlier decision that ordered McLean County Unit 5 school district to cancel its bus outsourcing contract and resume negotiations with its transportation staff's union.

The 4th District Appellate Court, in an opinion filed Thursday, said evidence indicates Unit 5 bargained in good faith and did not engage in unfair labor practices with its bus drivers and monitors.

"We are certainly pleased with the opinion of the appellate court and are grateful for having the opportunity to have presented our case before them," said Unit 5 Superintendent Gary Niehaus. "We look forward to continuing our partnership with First Student."

Lawyers for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees had claimed the district bargained in bad faith before contracting with First Student. Union leaders could not be reached Friday for comment.

"The (Illinois Education Labor Relations Board's) decision that the district committed an unfair labor practice when it entered into a subcontract with First Student for student transportation services is clearly erroneous and must be set aside," ruled the appellate court.

In May 2012, AFSCME filed the unfair labor practice charge, alleging Unit 5 outsourced bus service in retaliation against bus drivers and monitors who chose a union to represent them in negotiating their contract.

The district honorably dismissed all transportation department employees after the district signed a contract with First Student.

After conducting hearings, Administrative Law Judge Colleen Harvey concluded the district "improperly and unfairly used First Student's bid to gain bargaining power over AFSCME and forced (the union) to bargain against itself."

But the appellate court said the "inherent destructive" theory has not been adopted by Illinois courts in this type of case. If such a theory was allowed, the appellate court said, every decision by an employer to subcontract work could be labeled "inherently destructive" since such decisions deprive work to whole groups of employees.

The appellate court also noted the district gave AFSCME notice prior to soliciting bids for third-party transportation service and also informed AFSCME that it would consider any counter-proposals submitted by the union.

"The district even told AFSCME what it needed to do to meet the $1.5 million in savings that would result from subcontracting by stating, as the (administrative law judge) found, that the only way AFSCME could possibly compete with First Student was for its membership to accept a wage freeze and to eliminate health insurance benefits," the appellate court said.

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"The state of Illinois is currently experiencing dire financial problems. The district has an obligation to be good fiscal stewards when it comes to cost," the appellate court said.

"The evidence is also clear that the decision to terminate the employment of the bus drivers and monitors would have occurred notwithstanding their union activity."


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