A transit union is embroiled in a conflict over their labor negotiations with the Elk Grove Unified School District, and its members plan to speak out at the school board’s Nov. 16 meeting.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 256, which represents the district’s bus drivers, vehicle mechanics, and transportation office staff, is calling for pay raises for members who they say are among the lowest paid school transit workers in the Sacramento region.

On Sept. 7, bus drivers and mechanics spoke to the school board and addressed their hardships such as low salaries, and an understaffed schedule that causes bus drivers to arrive late. The school district has experienced a shortage of bus drivers in the current school year.

At the school board meeting, driver Sylvia Garcia brought her backpack that she uses to carry food and a change of clothing on her school bus when she works every weekday.

“We live out of these backpacks for five days a week,” she said. “We don’t get home to see our kids.”

For their next contract, the Local 256 is proposing a 20% pay increase for all of its members who work for Elk Grove Unified. These raises will cover retroactive pay for 2020 and 2021. They also request more pay increases after the 20% pay raise is completed.

On the bargaining table, Elk Grove Unified is proposing a three-year boost in salaries for bus drivers, based on one-time funding. District officials said they will also work on making this pay increase ongoing beyond the 2024-25 school year. They are also proposing a 4% pay increase for Local 256 members who are not drivers as well as a one-time 2% bonus for them.

Ralph Niz, president of the Local 256, told the Citizen there’s no excuse for the district to not increase pay for non-drivers by 20%, considering that the district received millions in state and federal COVID relief funding. In July, the district announced they received $191 million in federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

“How can they say they don’t have enough money to put our other members up to the same par as our operators?” he said. “That’s unbelievable.”

Last month, the district announced they reached an impasse with the Local 256 during negotiations over the union’s future contract with Elk Grove Unified. They plan to have a state mediator join the next round of negotiations in December and January. This mediator was appointed by the Public Employment Relations Board.

Niz and his union’s attorney, Anthony Booth criticized the district’s Oct. 14 press announcement that gave an update on the negotiations with the union. They accuse district officials of misinforming the public about the timeline of their negotiations.

Booth told Citizen that the Local 256 came out in protest at the Sept. 7 school board meeting in response to the district’s contract proposal that was presented in August. However, information about the August proposal was not included in the district’s timeline.

The district staff wrote that on Sept. 7, the union “bypassed district negotiators and provided their last proposal publicly” to the school board. District representatives reportedly issued another package proposal on Sept. 15. The district also stated that the negotiations reached an impasse after the Local 256 did not provide a contract counterproposal to the district by Oct. 13.

“They made it seem like we’re not going to deal with them; we’re going straight to the board.” Booth said. “We were really responding to what (the district officials) have given to us.”

District spokesperson Xanthi Soriano told the Citizen that the timeline presented in her staff’s Oct. 14 press release is accurate.

In response, Booth presented to the Citizen an Aug. 20 email from David Reilly, the district’s associate superintendent of human resources, to show that the district’s initial package proposal was presented “off-the-record” in August. He stressed that the Local 256 members protested at the Sept. 7 in response to the August proposal.

“There is no such thing as an off- the-record proposal,” Booth said.

Niz mentioned to the Citizen that his union is now creating gift baskets for the families of Local 256 members who will be in need during the holiday season.

“We buy food for the families and toys for the children,” he said. “It’s terrible.”

The Elk Grove school board’s Nov. 16 meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Trigg Education Center, 9510 Elk Grove-Florin Road. This meeting can also be viewed via the Zoom application at www.EGUSD.net.