Union leaders conceded on key issues in the last hour of negotiations with the Douglas County School District June 8, but stood firm on their proposal of a 3 percent pay raise for teachers.
Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation teachers union, said she also wouldn’t negotiate on a district proposal to remove contract language designating the union as the exclusive bargaining agent for teachers.
But the union gave in on a district proposal to cease collecting union dues from teacher paychecks, and agreed that employees of the union will no longer receive any compensation from the district. The lost compensation is not only the 50 percent salary the district traditionally has paid, but benefits that include funds paid into the Public Employees’ Retirement Association.
“I’m not going to shut down a collective bargaining agreement for the teachers of the school district this year because of these issues,” Smith said.
About 25 teachers watching the wrap-up of the negotiations at Douglas County High School stood and applauded Smith after she announced the concessions.
“She put it on the line for us,” one teacher shouted above the applause.
The union’s proposed 3 percent raise is higher than the district-proposed 2 percent, but union negotiations team members scoured the budget and believe they found the additional money. The district is not so sure.
The district team is taking the agreement to the school board during its June 9 retreat. District negotiator Dan McMinimee said he would relay their feedback to Smith early in the week of June 11.
Though the union conceded, Smith said it retains the right to take legal action on the issue of dues collection, particularly since the district did not require the same change during negotiations with the Amalgamated Transit Union.
School board members maintain that the teachers union is different because they believe only a small percentage of the dues benefit Douglas County teachers, and because the teachers union allegedly used dues to support union-endorsed candidates during the 2009 board election.
“I’m hoping the board is listening to this, so they see and know how passionate the teachers are about having a collective bargaining agreement,” Smith said. “I think it’s going to be a sad day in Douglas County if this offer is rejected.”
McMinimee thanked the union team for its work. Though the negotiations went public in April, the typically closed-door sessions began months before, and totaled about 100 hours.
“I think we did a lot of good work to make this a good place for teachers,” McMinimee said. “I want to commend the group for keeping a good focus on that.
“I think we did have some issues, and those were things that were not related to teachers.”
McMinimee cautioned that the union’s determination that it remain the teachers’ exclusive bargaining agent might be a sticking point for the board. He said the district would like to see flexibility in the agreement to allow other groups to represent teachers, but Smith maintains teachers already can make that choice. The move is an effort to bust the union, she said.
Bringing more groups into the picture, she said, would “be a complete division of the system. I don’t think they’ve thought through that.”
About 70 percent of Douglas County teachers belong to the teachers union, and union leaders say many of those in the remaining 30 percent are young teachers who feel they can’t afford the dues.
Ben DeGrow, a public policy analyst with the Independence Institute who specializes in education labor issues, attended the last few days of negotiations.
“Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess,” he said. “There’s no precedent. You don’t see a district with such a long-standing CBA (collective bargaining agreement) try to essentially end the relationship.”