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IUOE Local 17-Represented Buffalo Public School Custodians ‘Finally Get A New Contract After 12 Years Of Being Without One’ - Ratified Deal Calls For ‘Major’ Wage Increases, ‘But More Importantly No Cost’ For Their Health Insurance Coverage

Published Tuesday, November 1, 2022
by WNYLaborToday.com Editor-Publisher Tom Campbell
IUOE Local 17-Represented Buffalo Public School Custodians ‘Finally Get A New Contract After 12 Years Of Being Without One’ - Ratified Deal Calls For ‘Major’ Wage Increases, ‘But More Importantly No Cost’ For Their Health Insurance Coverage

(BUFFALO, NEW YORK) – It took 12 years before more than 200 extremely low-paid Buffalo Public School Custodians finally got a new contract, but according to the Union that represents those Workers - International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 17, the new deal calls for major wage increases, and even more importantly - no cost for their health care benefits.

In January 2021, WNYLaborToday.com reported on the plight of the Custodians, who asked if anyone “could live off our rate of pay?”  The frustrated Custodians, deemed essential and who worked through the Coronavirus Pandemic, said they made a disgusting $12.17 an hour - less than New York State’s Minimum Wage at the time (Read: “Could You Live Off Our Rate Of Pay?” - ‘Frustrated’ Buffalo Public School Custodians, Who Are Fighting COVID To Protect Schoolchildren, Have Been Without A Contract For 10 Years & Make A ‘Disgusting’ $12.17 An Hour, Less Than The NYS Minimum Wage At www.wnylabortoday.com/news/2021/01/26/buffalo-and-western-new-york-labor-news/could-you-live-off-our-rate-of-pay-frustrated-buffalo-public-school-custodians-who-are-fighting-covid-to-protect-schoolchildren-have-been-without-a-contract-for-10-years-make-a-disgusting-12.17-an-hour-less-than-the-nys-minimum-wage/).

But after a recent and overwhelmingly ratification vote of 102-to-14, the new four-year agreement is now in place and calls for: A $1,250 signing bonus; Wage increases of 25% in year one, 4% in year two and 3% each in years three and four; Added Juneteenth and Veterans Days as holidays; and an Additional personal day to bring the total to six personal days - which now can be used in a four-hour increments.

For example, in terms of wages - a Licensed Custodian will go from making $19.88 an hour to $21.53 an hour at the end of the agreement.

However, the biggest win in the new agreement - which runs until June 2026, is that the Custodians will continue to receive their health care benefits at no cost, Local 17 Representatives tell WNYLaborToday.com.

“That was ‘one of the biggest things,’” Local 17 Business Representative Stephen Palmeri, who also serves as the Union’s Financial Secretary, tells Your On-Line Labor Newspaper.  “They do ‘not pay into their health care’ and ‘they are the only (Employees) in the Buffalo Public School District who do not pay into (their health care benefit package).’”

For example, that means each Member - in year one of the contract, would save nearly $4,700, a yearly savings that is sure to increase on paper as their health care coverage will undoubtedly rise over the course of time, Palmeri said. 

“‘Do you know how important it is not to pay that?’  ‘It’s an unbelievable package,’” said Palmeri, adding current Members with 20 years of more of service will continue to have free health care after they retire.  “That was one of (the Members’) ‘biggest’ concerns, ‘but now - their health care will be paid.’”

However, any Custodian hired after July 1st, 2023 will not be eligible for paid health care, he said.

The new agreement for the Custodians was completed after the Buffalo Public Schools settled with their Chief Engineers (who are also represented by the IUOE). 

However, Palmeri said the Chief Engineers, under their contract, are paying a portion of their health care costs.

Palmeri tipped his hat to IUOE Local 17 Business Manager Gary Swain, who he said “‘kept the fight going for a better’ contract” for the Custodians during the time that former Buffalo Schools President Kriner Cash held the position. 

“Gary ‘was huge.’  ‘He drove (Cash) nuts, but things changed after Cash left.’  The new Superintendent (Tonya Williams) ‘wanted to get all their contracts done.’  After the Chief Engineers ‘were done, we got back to the table,’” he said.

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