SPRINGFIELD — In a unanimous vote Thursday, the Educational Labor Relations Board sought to block efforts by Unit 5 schools to outsource bus service.
The board voted to seek an injunction against Unit 5’s decision to hire Ohio-based First Student for bus services, which are currently handled in-house. Unit 5 bus drivers voted last August for union representation under the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
“We’re pleased with the decision,” said Renee Nestler, an AFSCME representative. “We were glad the decision was unanimous, and that it came very quickly.”
The board’s vote is the latest move in the fledgling union’s months-long effort to prevent the outsourcing of Unit 5 bus services. School officials have said the bus system is understaffed and often late, while employees have said their suggestions for improving the system’s efficiency has gone unheeded.
Nestler said the Education Labor Relations Board will file its injunction with the Illinois Attorney General’s Office. After that, the process moves to the McLean County Circuit Court.
In a statement to reporters Thursday, Unit 5 Superintendent Gary Niehaus said the district will move forward with the plan, adding the board went the route of outsourcing the buses because it would save taxpayers $1.5 million over the three-year contract.
“While this is not a surprise, it is disappointing,” Niehaus said. “We believe we made the right decision by contracting with First Student, and Unit 5 will continue to move forward with its plans. Approximately 120 current Unit 5 bus drivers and 50 current monitors have
already been interviewed and received conditional employment with First Student. The company is processing more applications of current drivers and monitors daily.”
Nestler said AFSCME’s disagreement with the school district stems from concerns not all workers will be rehired and the belief the district made the move to push back against members’ efforts to unionize.
“We believe Unit 5 decided to go forth in retaliation against our members for joining AFSCME, and that Unit 5 has not bargained with us in good faith over the course of negotiations,” Nestler said.