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School offers to settle grievance

Buses line up at the end of the day at Minnehaha Elementary Wednesday. A bus driver in Two Harbors filed a grievance with his union after losing a job awarded to him. (News-Chronicle photo by Adelle Whitefoot)

The Lake Superior School District Board unanimously approved a compromise settlement with a bus driver who filed a grievance with the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 70 after the driver lost a long distance assignment he was initially offered.

The situation arose over the LSSD winter break, when the North Shore Storm hockey team needed a driver to take the team from Silver Bay to the Twin Cities for a tournament. The driving assignment, per district policy and union contract, was first offered to drivers in Silver Bay and even to one driver specifically. District policy also states jobs originating in Silver Bay will be offered to Silver Bay drivers first and those beginning in Two Harbors will be offered there first.

The Silver Bay driver initially refused the assignment because the district would not pay for his meals up front. The 35 hour assignment, which would result in $599.90 of pay at the driver rate of $17.14 per hour, was then offered to a driver from the Two Harbors bus garage and was accepted.

LSSD policy is that traveling employees must collect receipts for meals and turn them in after a trip to be reimbursed for their expenses and that is where this story becomes a little more complicated. After the job was accepted by a Two Harbors driver, the Blue Line Club in Silver Bay offered to pay for the drivers' meals during the trip and the Silver Bay driver said he now wanted the assignment. Terry Wasiluk, a representative for LSSD drivers with the IUOE Local 70, said this isn't common but negotiations like this do occasionally take place and is within the parameters of the contract.

The school district decided to go with the Silver Bay driver since he was the first person offered the assignment and because the assignment originated in Silver Bay. The Silver Bay driver had threatened to quit his job if he was not awarded the assignment, but LSSD superintendent Bill Crandall said the driver's threat was not the "tipping point" in the decision to give the assignment back the the Silver Bay driver.

As a result of the assignment first being awarded to a driver in Two Harbors and then being given to the Silver Bay driver, the Two Harbors driver filed a grievance with the union. The Two Harbors driver asked to be paid for the time since he was offered and accepted the contract only to have it taken away. The LSSD personnel committee wasn't comfortable awarding the Two Harbors driver almost $600 for no work, so the committee compromised and offered him half of the sum as compensation and asked that he work the remaining 17.5 hours helping out around the garage or in other duties.

"We weren't sitting there looking at the contract," Crandall said. "In retrospect, we should have been and should have awarded it to (the Two Harbors driver)."

Both Crandall and Wasiluk said they wanted to clarify the contract's policy on awarding contracts and make the process a little more transparent to ensure situations like this do not arise in the future.

"My personal goal would be that we clarify how trips are awarded," Wasiluk said. "This was not a good outcome for a bus trip."

The current bus driver contract expires June 30 and both men said it will be on their lists of things to go over when all parties come to the negotiating table this summer. Crandall also said the district wanted to continue to allow booster clubs like the Blue Line Club to offer incentives to drivers like paying for meals up front, but the district will be sure to touch base with those clubs before sending out out-of-town assignments like hockey tournaments.

"The positive thing I see coming out of this is that I think both the union and the district see that we need to address the awarding of trips to make it a more transparent process for everyone to have a very clear understanding of how it's done," Crandall said.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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