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Blue-collar workers reach tentative agreement with District

Kimberly Paynter/WHYY

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

More than 2,000 blue-collar employees, represented by 32BJ SEIU, have reached a tentative four-year agreement for a new contract with the District, union officials said Monday.

The union represents mechanics such as Chris Trakimas, who died from injuries suffered when a boiler exploded in January at F.S. Edmonds Elementary School.

After the accident, the union held a rally at School District headquarters, demanding action to ensure the safety of students and staff. This prompted collaboration between the city managing director’s office, Philadelphia Gas Works, the School District, and 32BJ SEIU to test and inspect the District’s 542 boilers. As a result, 413 repair work orders are now underway, with some already completed.

“Prior to budget cuts, repairs to a boiler would be completed by two employees to ensure safety,” the union said in a press release. “After years of budget cuts, Trakimas was tasked with doing the risky job alone.”

The union represents bus drivers, maintenance workers, cleaners, building engineers, and bus attendants, working in almost 300 schools around the city. During the last negotiations four years ago, the 32BJ SEIU members agreed to concessions worth $100 million to help close the District’s budget deficit.

“We have done our part over the years to support our children’s education from concessions to trips to Harrisburg to demand for more education funding,” said Gabe Morgan, the union’s vice president, in a statement. “This tentative agreement is a step in the right direction and shows that our members and the District can work together effectively to reach a fair contract.”

Although the details of the agreement won’t be public until after a ratification vote this weekend, the union’s press release states that the deal “includes an end to member concessions, fair wage increases, and provides for full-time bus routes.”

“Our hard-working members sacrificed over the past four years to help the students and the District. We are glad the District acknowledges our efforts,” said Ernie Bennett, leader of District 1201 32BJ SEIU, in a statement. “This agreement allows these employees to continue supporting their families and their communities.”

A District spokeswoman confirmed that it reached a tentative agreement with the 32BJ SEIU, but declined further comment.

This comes after the principals, whose contract also expires on Aug. 31, postponed a vote June 1 on a tentative four-year agreement, saying they needed more details on salary schedules and other issues. The members of their bargaining unit, the Commonwealth Association of School Administrators have now arranged to vote in person from 4 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

The District’s largest union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, has been unable to reach agreement with the District on a new contract for nearly four years. Its members have received no wage increases during that time, but neither have they made concessions like the principals and blue-collar workers.

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