Saturday, April 29, 2006

Negotiations in a School District


Negotiations are so freaking frustrating. We say all the right things, set up the room in just the right way, make sure everyone is seated around the table just so, and STILL we cannot get to an answer. I'm dedicated to being there, I'm ready to devote my time, sanity, and even writing skills to the endeavor, but still no resolution. (Writing skills: Feel like crafting a quasi-legal definistion of the word "indisposed"? Which is a better phrase, "Professional Duty" or "Adjunct Duty"?)

Touch of background--Boards do not negotiate with unions. Usually the Board designates a representative, either a professional negotiator or a labor attorney to go represent their interests. Anytime something happens in negotiations, the representative comes to the Board in Closed Session for a discussion, and the Board gives direction. Lots of back and forthing on an hourly rate leads to very expensive negotiations.

Once, a few years ago, I was sent in by the Board to monitor negotiations (not take part, just sit in the room and watch) because there was a possibility our rep wasn't reporting the actions properly. (Bad personal history between her and another negotiator. Our reports were filled with personal digs at her partner across the table.) This year I've been asked, based on that experience, to be part of the negotiating tean with another Board member. This is highly unusual. It reflects an effort to be more direct with the union, build some trust, and to cut down on negotiation costs.

Wednesday the Board met for two hours in Closed Session to develop a negotiating proposal. It includes a pretty chunky raise (the teachers haven't had one in five years and morale is in the toilet).

Met all day Friday in negotiations. Everything seemed to be going well before lunch. The raise is part of a package which includes a language change to the workday (really, I won't bore you with details). Almost all the union team members were *happy* with the language change and talked about how much more respectful it was, etc. Great! So, let's all break for lunch. We'll draft up our version of the proposed change, you draft yours, and we'll meet after lunch to compromise.

After lunch, union comes back stone-faced. Nope. Don't want the change. The language they bring is *more* restrictive than the current contract.

Do you understand that this is part of the package from the Board? Yes.

The package which includes a raise? Yes.


I actually had to leave at this point to help my husband set up an event at his business. So I'll find out later on today how it all ended---my assumption from a quick phone call in the afternoon is that the package was rejected.

But this is what just makes me crazy:

I feel as if I, personally, have dedicated a ton of time to this project. It's physically tiring to attend all-day negotiations and then verbally report on those sesions in later Board meetings. It's like an improv act--you have to be very aware of every word coming out, how everyone will perceive your verb choice. I've had four all-day sessions with teachers and, I think, three with the Classified employees. (Outside of Union Negotiations, I've also spent the last *two years* negotiating a Joint Use Agreement with our City representatives.) When there's language to be drafted, I tend to be the one drafting it. (Mostly because the other two professionals have a tendency to write sentences with many clauses but no verb.) The teachers have said over and over again, "Please listen to us. We need some respect. We need a raise." So we did that. THEY LOVED THE PROPOSAL IN THE MORNING!! But by the afternoon, they were back to, "It sounds like a good idea, but we don't trust you, so we can't do it this year. Let's talk about it in next year's negotiation."

Why next year? What's the difference between 06 and 07? Are you going to trust us more next year? I came on the Board in 03 as a "teacher-friendly" candidate, joining the one Board member who kept being voted down 4-1 on practically every vote. This Fall he got re-elected, and we added two more "teacher-friendly" candidates. Now the votes have a tendency towards 5-0 and 4-1 in the other direction.

You won! You beat the system! You've got the Board you wanted! They're finally offering you a raise! They're offering you a chance to get out from under a time-card system and go to an honor system of work product accounting! Yay!!

Nope. Come back next year.

I need to get off the negotiation team before I go postal on someone.


Fickle Fiona said...

Poor Suisan.

It was interesting to hear from the other side of the table, so to speak. We are having difficulities here also.

After my years of teaching I have been on both sides of the fence with my union and I have come to view a union much like I do Communism. It looks great on paper but you put the wrong idiot in charge and it all goes to hell.

Good luck. And my question is: just who exactly did they talk to over lunch to change their minds so drastically?


Suisan said...

The rep from the State union took them out to lunch. And the husband of local union president is another state-level rep. So I think the state rep (who sits in on negotiations locally but does not lead them) and the husband of the president got everyone on a conference call during lunch. There is a feeling state-wide that since Ahnold the Guvernator is runnng for re-election that there will be lots of money in the state educaiton budget this year. CTA is encouraging locals not to make any changes to the contracts and to push for all the state money that comes in.

I think the local got swayed to stick to a statewide stance. Which really sucks because the local wants and works for my respect. I don't give half a fig what CTA thinks of me, and the CTA rep knows it. Statewide interests are not the same as local interests.

Which makes the whole thing even that much more annoying. Who AM I talking to anyway? State reps or local reps?

Kate R said...

is that a picture of you? do you chew your nails? if you don't, why don't you,for God's sake? Or smoke or drink?

What you describe sounds like a circle of hell. Time to get out a mallet and smack someone.

Suisan said...

Nah. The picture I got from googling "frustration" But I thought it conveyed the head-in-the-hands, I-can't-believe-what-I'm-seeing, feeling of the day.

One day I'll post a picture of widdle ole me. (g)

Fickle Fiona said...

Ah, and the plot thickens. We don't use state reps, never could get anything accomplished with them sitting at the table...less at stake for them so they are willing to take bigger risks (aka bluffs).


CindyS said...

Sooo, does that mean they plan on working for the next year without a pay increase? I'm not sure I get the logic. Being the smart bunny I am I would tell the state guy to go take a flying leap ;)

I think it is horrible that you work so hard and get no where. That is where I would be forced to make people feel some pain ;) Oh, you don't want the raise I'm eager to give you? Okay, how about we cut your hours. Yeah, I'm one of those bitches they shouldn't trust. I'm of the 'don't look a gift horse in the mouth' - although I wish I knew what that really meant.



Suisan said...

Look a gift horse in the mouth:

If it's free, don't question how old it is. Maybe it's 8 years old and has many prime years of use ahead of it. Maybe it's 18 and is due to be retired. You can tell a horse's age by its teeth, so don't look a gift horse in the mouth to decide if the gift lives up to your expectations.

Just heard that the offer was not summarily rejected, but that the offer may be "hard to sell to the members." Room for dancing in there.

But, yes, I do feel as if I've been putting in a lot of time and energy with very little reward.

Welcome to service on the School Board. I'm sure I could find osme City Councilmembers who feel the same.

NYC Educator said...

It's very interesting to hear the perspective from the other side of the table. Thanks for the post.

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