AUBURN — A labor mediator has ruled that the School Department did not violate collective bargaining when it privatized its bus drivers to Northeast Charter of Lewiston.

The School Committee voted last August to eliminate its transportation department positions, including 23 bus drivers, a mechanic and three bus aides.

The union representing the bus drivers, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, protested and filed a grievance, bringing the action in front of a labor arbitrator.

The hearing-like case was held in Auburn in February when mediator James Litton listened to both sides.

On Thursday, the School Department learned the mediator ruled in favor of the department.

The decision “validates the School Committee’s action, that we did have the right by our agreement to outsource,” School Superintendent Katy Grondin said. “The reason we did that was for savings for taxpayers of Auburn. It was a difficult decision to make. It was a difficult budget decision.”

John Carr, spokesman for the IAMAW, said Friday that the arbitrator’s decision is “unfortunate.”

“I was involved with this personally, with the representative who handled the contract. We haven’t read the decision, but we’re aware of the decision. It’s sad,” Carr said. He complained about Grondin’s annual salary going from $115,000 to $121,000 in three years. “They cut the little guy to reward the big guy,” he said.

The bus drivers live and work in the community, and took “the security and safety of these children” seriously, Carr added.

Savings to Auburn property taxpayers in the first year of outsourcing bus drivers was $100,000, not the $300,000 as first projected because of initial costs of the change, especially legal fees.

In the fiscal year that begins July 1, the School Department expects to save $280,000, Grondin said. Much of the lower costs come from no longer providing benefits, especially health insurance, to transportation workers.

Grondin has told School Committee members that the change has gone smoothly, and the School Department still owns the buses. Students would not notice any difference in service, she said, and most of the School Department’s former transportation workers have been hired by Northeast Charter.

Last year, bus drivers protested the change.

Bus driver Debbie Therriault, who also was a union representative, said drivers hired by Northeast would not be offered health insurance unless they worked 40 hours — and most work fewer hours.

“They took away everything,” Therriault said in August after the vote. “No holidays, no health insurance — nothing. We’re not happy.”

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