Labor union requests mediator after breakdown in negotiations with GFPS

The Great Falls Association of Office Personnel, a union of school office staff affiliated with the Montana Federation of Public Employees, has requested the assistance of a state mediator in ongoing contract negotiations.

According to the union, 64 office staff members in Great Falls Public Schools have worked without a contract since their previous agreement expired June 30.

The union said in a release that requesting a state mediator from the Montana Department of Labor and Industry in a response to a breakdown in contract negotiations between GFPS and the union.

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Offers from the district, which was most recently an additional 64 cents an hour, “fail to honor the integral role office staff play supporting and protecting students, families, and faculty throughout the district. This most recent offer also fails to recognize and repair a decades-old pay scale that has been made inadequate by the increased cost-of-living in Great Falls,” according to the union.

The first mediation is scheduled for Oct. 26, according to the union.

Luke Diekhans, GFPS human resources director, told The Electric that during a September meeting between the district and the union, they agreed to used mediation.

“As with all negotiations, mediation can be utilized to help bring a contract to resolution. The district plans to continue open communication with the group though the mediation process. As with all bargained agreements, the district will continue to work for a resolution that is fiscally sound for the district’s future and meets the needs of the employees. Mediation begins next week, and schools continue to operate normally,” Diekhans said.

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“Currently, when we start working for the district, we make between $13.59 and $16.73,” Association of Office Personnel President Daneen Pate said in a release. “After 25 years of service to this district, the most we can earn is between $16.42 and $19.53 an hour. These wages are no longer livable, they don’t keep pace with other school districts, and they’re not fair market value. We’re fighting for a fair contract because we love the students in our care and the district shouldn’t force us to choose between them and putting food on our families’ tables.”

According to the union, office staff are often the first to greet students, parents and families at the school and help with scheduling, record keeping, finances, school activities and attendance.

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GFPS’ most recent offer would equate to $30,261 per contract year, compared to their counterparts across the state average of $41,744, according to the union.

For comparison, the average Great Falls administrator makes $107,564 per year, according the union.

The union says that an average entry level administrative assistant at Malmstrom’s Delta Solutions makes between $44,000 and $56,000. New administrative assistants at Montana Highway Patrol and Montana’s average fast-food worker earn over $42,000 in a 2,080-hour year of work.