Custodians bargain for separate contract with CPS

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COLUMBIA - Custodians are fighting to draft a contract with the Columbia Public School Board of Education to gain more workers' rights.

Laborers' Local Union 773 in Columbia is handing out flyers this week to reach out to the community for support after having trouble with CPS negotiations.

"We have had a really hard time negotiating the contract with [CPS]," union worker Regina Guevara said. "What we want is progressive discipline and a grievance procedure so that they have a right to say when they don't agree about discipline."

"Our fight is not about money," Guevara said. "It's about fairness and equality for our custodians."

The union is also seeking a custodian voice on the board.

"I don't care how you look at it," she said. "It isn't fair to not be allowed to request representation."

CPS said the debate of a contract is lasting so long because of board policy.

"We're governed by policy, and that's kind of unusual," CPS Financial Officer Linda Quinley said. "Most businesses are not governed by policy, so we have a policy for almost everything they'd like to have in the contract. So we lean toward the policies because they apply to all employees."

Quinley said custodians are not being treated any differently than most other district employees.

"Our custodians are in the same group as I am," Quinley said. "Tenured teachers have different policy. I have the same rules that a custodian has; my secretary has the same rules as a custodian; the technology professionals in the district have the same rules as custodians." 

"If we have a policy on it, we're probably not going to allow language in a separate contract because we want all employees to live under the same rules," she said. 

Quinley said the board will review the custodian proposal on its May agenda.