How Do We Trust You Moving Forward?
June 1 TTEA Board report:
I am a biology teacher at North Tahoe High School. Ms. Hennesey, I know you know that because I have had the pleasure of teaching your daughter this year, along with a number of other awesome North Tahoe students. I am also the bargaining chair for TTEA, representing our almost 300 members in contract negotiations. It is in that role that I come before you tonight.
The last time TTEA gave a report, TTEA Vice President Nik Fertitta spoke to you about where we have been, where we are now, and where we might be going. TTEA very much believes that a collaborative relationship with both The School Board and with District Office Administration is what is best for students, teachers, staff, and a well functioning school district. We feel that our school sites are great environments and we love working together with our staff. But, a truly collaborative relationship is one where both sides can trust each other, and as Nik said, can hear each other’s perspectives. We came to you last time truly hoping that we would be able to come together, build some trust, and find a way to compromise that valued each other’s perspectives in this current negotiation.
But, tonight I have to share with you the ways you have specifically violated our trust since then, and also in our view, violated specific provisions of the law governing collective bargaining between school districts and labor unions to your benefit and at our expense. I don’t know whether you know these events happened or not, or whether you directed them to occur, but it happened under your leadership either way and is therefore ultimately your responsibility.
I am not going to speak to you about specific offers, or budgets, etc tonight. We have had those discussions before and it is clear we disagree right now. Respectful adults, even those in our roles, can disagree, and draw different conclusions from the data. The neutral fact-finder appointed by the state will convene a panel, gather data, and issue a report, and we can continue those discussions at a later time. The law provides steps and provisions to resolve disputes just like the one we are having right now.
Tonight, I am going to speak to you about the process, how TTUSD has conducted themselves recently in these negotiations, and in our view, we believe also the Public Employee Relations Board, the state body that adjudicates these disputes, how TTUSD has violated the labor law to advance your interests at the expense of your staff.
The process of collective bargaining at public school entities is governed by a set of laws. The Educational Employment Relations Act (EERA), as well as more broadly under the National Labor Relations Act. We all have our roles to play in the collective bargaining process.
The publicly elected School Board has the responsibility to ensure the fiscal solvency of the district and respond to the desires of their constituencies, creating the conditions for a well-functioning district that is responsive to what their constituencies want. The Superintendent and district admin implement the direction of the board and conduct the day-to-day operations of running the district. The teachers union represents the interests of the certificated staff.
Specifically, we view our role as to support our members, as they support students, and ensure we can recruit and keep the best possible teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, TOSAs, SLPs, etc, setting them up for success and to be the best possible educators they can be. This includes advocating for wages and working conditions that allow them to thrive. The responsibilities and roles of each of these entities during negotiations is prescribed within EERA law.
There are rules and procedures that govern bargaining and limit what each actor is required and allowed to do. These laws ensure each party doesn’t take actions that might benefit them, at the expense of fairness to their partner, recognizing the difference and power disparities between the two parties (district and union). As, regardless of how a settlement will be reached, the parties will have to continue to work together to serve the public good and operate the district. There is also a prescribed process when an agreement cannot be reached between the parties through normal negotiations. As I am sure you know we are now working through this process of mediation and fact-finding.
The law prescribes limits to what is allowed for what is called “good faith” bargaining. There is some specific legalese around that term, but generally, employers must, “meet at reasonable times, and confer in good faith with respect to wages, hours, and other terms and conditions of employment or the negotiation of agreement.” Specifically, “good faith” doesn’t “compel either party to agree to a proposal or require the making of concessions”. It is about the process, not necessarily the substance.
You are meeting tonight to read and discuss the plan for expanded school year opportunities for the next year. An LCAP style plan needs to be adopted by The Board before an upcoming deadline in order to bring additional state money for expanded programs to the students of TTUSD for this summer and next year. The plan will necessarily involve changes that are “mandatory subjects of bargaining” under EERA, meaning in order to bargain in “good faith”, the employer is required to bargain these impacts with their employees in a timely manner. These include working hours and wages etc.
Ms. Ghysels discussed the possibility that the workweek might be extended by two hours at the last board meeting, and wages and hours have changed for summer school positions already. In the document attached to the board agenda tonight on page six of the .pdf, it states as the first item under “ELO GRANT MAJOR COMPONENTS,” as “Extending Instructional Learning Time.”
TTEA, as is our right, formally demanded to bargain these impacts, and TTUSD has refused to do so twice and stated that we must identify specific bargainable items to address in our request. This is your right to do so, but it doesn’t build trust. I think TTUSD’s current position, as stated by Ms. Zappettini in a letter dated May 27th, is “the length of the instructional day is not in itself a mandatory subject of bargaining”. We do not see how it will be possible to Extend “Instructional Learning Time” for students without either hiring more certificated staff (as you have stated elsewhere in the report you review tonight is a challenge) or asking staff to work more hours. Changes in working hours are a mandatory subject of bargaining according to EERA. Period, full stop.
My point here is that TTUSD knew mandatory subjects of bargaining were going to be changed due to the plan you are discussing tonight and chose to delay and now flat out reject discussion with our employee association. Bargaining in good faith would commence negotiations on those topics the first time we requested to do so, allowing us to collaborate and reach consensus.
Additionally, Ms. Zappettini suggested that TTEA direct teachers to remove signs supporting their union earlier this year. An action they know to be legally protected at school sites before they requested we do so. When provided with case law, we never heard anything about it again. This was simply an effort to intimidate. Even tonight, TTEA asked to be agendized, and give a standard board report, as we do at the first meeting of every month, as we have been doing for the last 20+ years, and we were denied. You know we want to speak about topics pertinent to tonight’s agenda, and in our traditional position at the start of the month and TTUSD is making it more difficult to hear us out. Thus, you are reading my comments and not hearing me deliver them in person.
We don’t think these instances rise to the level of a full violation of labor law or an unfair labor practice, but we do think it shows a pattern of behavior and informs our lack of trust. In addition to this, it sets a poor example to our community and our students--we are role models and public figures. We teach students how to peacefully, respectfully, fairly, and legally air their complaints, and these actions do not fall under the guidelines that are being taught in TTUSD classrooms.
The two instances I will describe now, that have happened in the last month or so, we do feel are concrete violations of the law, and we are in the process of working with California Teachers Association legal counsel to file these charges with the appropriate bodies. At this point, we feel this is the only way to protect our rights going forward.
An employer is said to be bargaining in “bad faith” when they use one or more of seven specifically enumerated tactics laid out in labor law. Specifically, negotiating in public, or “efforts to bypass the union” are one of these tactics. Following the end of our confidential mediation, after we had concluded for the day and failed to reach a settlement with the mediator, Ms. Zappetini emailed a “last, best, and final offer” to me and the rest of the TTEA negotiations team. TTUSD then proceeded to post that offer on the district website to the public, including our TTEA members. At no point this year have we ever agreed to exchange proposals in negotiations solely by email, without meeting virtually at the table as they were discussed and presented. She waited for no acknowledgment of receipt from our team to post the offer publicly. Our team had not had a chance to discuss TTUSD’s offer before it was posted to our members. Also, the language of “last, best, and final '' is out of place, and that type of offer is only legally relevant in the process after fact-finding has been concluded. TTUSD went around the bargaining team to negotiate directly with TTEA members before the bargaining team had a chance to discuss or respond to TTUSD’s offer and decide to present and/or message it to our members. This conduct is specifically disallowed under labor law. The bargaining team is the representative of the membership and makes choices in their best interest, and at their direction, while taking into account the details and specifics that individual members might not be aware of.
In our estimation, the reason why TTUSD chose to go around the bargaining team and negotiate in public was to divide our unit, as the offer was an increase from the last offer we received before mediation, and it makes the suggestion that no further offers will be forthcoming. I imagine the thinking was that an increased offer and the implication that there would be no others would bleed support from our members, encourage them to accept the deal, take the money now, and fewer would remain committed to holding out for a fair offer. TTUSD had to know that this conduct is legally an unfair labor practice, disallowed by EERA, and would likely result in a judgment against them. They chose to do it anyway because they viewed the cost of a potential unfair labor practice judgment at some future date as being worth it to try and divide our unit and get the district’s favored settlement accepted now. Last week, TTUSD knowingly chose to violate the law to advance their agenda, at the expense of their teachers. How can we build trust together in an environment like that?
The next issue I am going to speak to you about is more personal but also indicative of the environment in TTUSD we find ourselves in now. Within about an hour of the conclusion of negotiations on April 9th, importantly the Friday afternoon before a week of spring vacation, the date when TTEA unilaterally declared impasse with TTUSD, initiating the next step in the negotiations process, and escalating the negotiation to potentially involve a state mediator, I was contacted by Ms. Zappettini and told me that a formal complaint was being filed against me through the district by an unidentified staff member. This complaint was supposed to be about my behavior at a previous board meeting, when the video and audio stream allowing me to watch the meeting became non-functional, and no space was available to come into the board room due to social distancing. As clearly witnessed by the others around me during this time, nothing warranting a formal complaint occurred. I asked for information regarding formal complaint procedures by email and was provided it, and then never heard anything about it again. I ask you to think about the timing, of filing a complaint against the bargaining chair of the employee association, an hour after contentious negotiations concluded for the day when I had just informed them that TTEA had unilaterally made a choice that the TTUSD team didn’t agree with and refused to declare jointly, on the Friday afternoon before a weeklong vacation by an anonymous complaint.
We believe this meets the formal definition of “chilling” in labor law, attempting to “interfere with, restrain, coerce members in exercising their union rights or employee protected right.”
Clearly, the implication was that if you continue to undertake actions for the union as bargaining chair that TTUSD finds objectionable, TTUSD will find ways to make your work life more uncertain or difficult. With the hope that you will think twice about taking actions that the district doesn't like, knowing you might have personal consequences for your employment. At the least, maybe Ms. Zappettini thought I would worry about it over my vacation and it might take the sheen off some of my time away to recharge and prepare to return to my important work in my classroom.
My duty as bargaining chair is to represent my union members. Honestly, it is immaterial if I am implicitly threatened in this way, I have a legal duty of fair representation to my almost 300 other members to do what I think is best for them regardless of how it might affect me. But, the chilling violation occurs not because of the result, but because of the intent, or the potential to influence behavior. I and our legal counsel clearly think this instance meets the legal standard for chilling given the timing and implications. If TTUSD will undertake what we feel is so blatantly a chilling violation against me, what is to stop them from doing it to a less publicly visible employee next?
You might not appreciate or agree with our position, messaging, or organizing tactics, but never have we even approached the line around a violation of the law. TTUSD has done this repeatedly, recently, to bargain in bad faith, and chill union activity, as well as other instances that might not cross the line but inform our thinking about a pattern of behavior and a climate in TTUSD. The board has often talked about how this negotiation has made them feel, and you will hear from our members about how it has felt to be a teacher in TTUSD this year. Given what we have shared tonight how would you feel in our shoes? How can we take your requests for compromise at face value given this is what is happening and the lack of even basic respect for the law that governs our interactions in negotiations? What does it say about TTUSD as a place to work that you won’t even respect the legal rights of your teachers?
Nik said last time, we are at an inflection point. We want to have a collaborative relationship because we think it is better for everyone; however, we don’t just want to be collaborative when it supports the goals of administration. Collaboration has to happen all of the time. We have proposed concrete steps, like attending the Labor Management Institute (LMI) (a statewide program to build relationships between admin, boards, and labor unions) for example, multiple times. But, we cannot have a collaborative relationship with TTUSD when TTUSD will not even respect our basic legal rights as an association. In order for any kind of collaborative relationship to develop, the floor must be that TTUSD bargains in good faith, stops crossing, or even approaching the legal line around labor law, and openly shows respect for all employees.
As always, we remain hopeful that we can reach true collaborative compromise and agreement. TTEA members and teachers are amazing at coming in every day with fresh eyes, and letting go of what happened in the past. But, we also learn from patterns of behavior, and our patience can’t be endless. We must stand up for ourselves, and assert our right to be treated fairly and with the respect we deserve.
Here’s looking forward to future progress in our relationship and that at some point we will be able to repair the damage and reflect on this time as containing difficult, but necessary conversations.
We welcome a direct conversation with you all as board members and think frank conversations between us would help us out of our current disagreement. So, please do not hesitate to reach out to me or other members of the e-board if you would like to speak directly.