City schools' operations workers sign on to pay-for-performance contract

Starting this school year, everyone from cafeteria workers to custodial staff will be evaluated and paid based on their performance, under what union and city school officials call a first-of-its-kind contract for operations staff in the country.

After two years of negotiations, the 1,110 employees represented by the Local 44 chapter of theAmerican Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees(AFSCME) signed on to a new, five-year-deal that will tie their performance to compensation.

The members,  who are considered "essential employees," such as food service, custodians, maintenance workers, bus drivers and hall monitors," will join the city's teachers and administrators in being measured by a new evaluation system that will place them on new career pathways whose intervals are tied to more pay. 

"Our number one concern was always the retention of our jobs," said Glen Middleton, president of the Local 44 chapter of AFSCME, who said at a school board meeting presentation that negotiating the contract was beyond anything the union had ever experienced. "It was difficult for me, difficult for my membership...because there's been no measurement throughout the entire country that has happened with these kinds of workers."

Like teachers and administrators, the members will receive a 2 percent salary increase, retroactive to July 1, 2010, and a $700 one-time stipend. In fiscal year 2012, which just ended the members were due another 1 percent pay increase, and $500 stipend. For 2013, which started on July 1, the union will receive a 1.5 percent salary increase. Next year, they will begin climbing a new pay ladder.

Middleton pointed out that the union still had reservations about the new pay-for-performance deal, much like those expressed by teachers and administrators.

 "There are many potential problems," he said. "It can be used sometimes to limit career development."

 City school officials said they understood those concerns, but the contract would help with efficiency and professionalism among the operational staff.

"We do have enormous respect for what you do," said city schools CEO Andres Alonso. "It's a huge leap of faith for the membership."

Middleton said the membership feared things like unequal application of the contract, ulterior motives by evaluating supervisors, and his workers not being taken seriously and treated as professionals.

He stressed that these are employees who always have to report to work, even when no one else does.

"They are the parents, grandparents of the students of Baltimore city students," he said. "They're the ones who catch the  early bus in the morning to be the first person [the children] see."

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