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Buffalo school crossing guards ratify contract First pact under control board

The people who help schoolchildren cross streets made history Friday by becoming the first city union to sign a ratified contract since Buffalo's control board set up shop four years ago.

Now Mayor Byron W. Brown is hoping the pact with crossing guards will show other unions how bargaining that is conducted on a two-way street can benefit both sides.

The 146-member union agreed to some concessions in return for 23 percent raises over three years. Crossing guards have been working under the terms of an expired contract since July 2004, and union Vice President Carol T. DiFrancesco said the part-time employees haven't seen raises in five years.

DiFrancesco and union President Maggie Springs signed an agreement Friday that was ratified earlier this week by members.

Assuming the control board and Common Council approve the contract, crossing guards will see their current $8.25 hourly wage increase to $10, retroactive to July 1. Their salaries will increase to $10.15 by mid-2009. Crossing guards also receive health insurance benefits.

City Employee Relations Director Mary Thomas Scott said while the increase brings the crossing guards in line with Buffalo's living wage provisions, the pact also requires them to pay a larger share of their health insurance, forfeit pay for one snow day annually and follow some new work rules.

Crossing guards work 20 hours a week during the school year. Health benefits are a key incentive for attracting and retaining many workers, city officials said. The new contract also will provide $200, one-time bonuses.

"While this is a small bargaining unit, we tried to get a model for what should be included in other contracts," Brown said Friday. "We've tried to design a contract that is a win-win. It's a win for the workers, and a win for taxpayers."

The city has been in talks with the white-collar union for nearly six weeks, union President Michael F. Drennen said.

"Negotiations have been cordial and have been handled professionally," Drennen said. "We seem to be moving forward."

Earlier this week, the city's top attorney urged other unions to return to the bargaining table to try to negotiate "affordable" contracts. Corporation Counsel Alisa A. Lukasiewicz made her comments on the same day a judge ruled that the city and school district must place employees on the salary steps they would have attained had a wage freeze not been imposed for 38 months.

The control board lifted the freeze in July, but the city and school district maintained that employees were only eligible to move one step up the salary ladder.

The control board said it will appeal the court ruling, claiming it would cost the city and Board of Education an additional $130 million over four years.


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