Unions Want Uniforms Requirement To Be Halted

WHEELING – Service union representatives told Ohio County Board of Education members this week they want them to rescind a policy passed last spring requiring the school district’s service workers to wear uniforms while on the job.

Board members will consider a move to eliminate the measure at the July 28 meeting and could also discuss creating a new policy requiring all school district employees to wear identification badges, according to board president Shane Mallett.

All service personnel working for Ohio County Schools – among them bus drivers, mechanics, maintenance and cafeteria workers – are subject to the uniform mandate, and the school district pays the UniFirst rental uniform company $60,000 annually to provide and launder uniforms used by employees, Superintendent Dianna Vargo said.

Jerry Ames, a representative of the West Virginia School Services Workers Association, and Sam McColloch, a representative of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said they and many members of their organizations don’t feel comfortable with the punishment language in the policy that says a worker could be fired for failure to wear a uniform. The service employees believe the language targets service workers as it does not pertain to any other employees.

“Somebody could lose their job if they didn’t properly wear the uniform,” Ames said. “We just feel as though we would like to have the policy rescinded and maybe go back to the drawing board with something else. We don’t need to have that policy. Our people feel threatened – and that’s a tough word to say in this environment. We have a dress code policy that would cover that.”

Ames said the language and disciplinary actions outlined in the policy are the source of those threats.

“Discipline would be the major thing,” Ames answered. “We don’t want anybody to lose their jobs over uniforms. We think a lot of the people who wear the uniforms are professional looking, and very professional people. If somebody didn’t want to wear a uniform, that’s fine too as long as they wore something appropriate with Ohio County Schools so they could be identified. We don’t want to compromise safety in the schools. We want it to be better.”

Ames said the unions plan to ask Ohio County Schools for a policy requiring employees to wear a name badge when working with students so the students know who they are, and that they should be in the school building or on their bus.

Also, other district policy requires all employees to dress professionally or be subject to punishment determined by the building principal.

Board member Christine Carder said if the uniform policy were rescinded and an employee continues to dress in a substandard way, they still could lose their job under school policies.

Ames said building principals should be permitted to determine what punishment is necessary for that worker, and that sending the employee home might not be a bad idea.

However, he opposes the employee losing their job in that situation.

He said many of the employees also don’t send their uniforms back to UniFirst for laundering, though the service is provided. They say they often don’t get the correct uniform back, and don’t like the chemicals in which they are washed.

“We do want to keep the uniforms,” Carder said.

No action on the matter was taken during Monday’s meeting.