On Monday, April 7, the Jefferson County Education Association (JCEA) declared an impasse in negotiations, which moves negotiations behind closed doors. JCEA had requested negotiations be open for the first time in anyone’s memory. The union contract states that in case of an impasse, a mediator will need to be selected to help the parties reach a voluntary agreement. That mediation process is closed.
“The mediator/fact-finder will have authority to hold hearings, make procedural rules, and set the dates and times for meetings, which will be conducted in closed sessions.” From Article 5 of the JCEA contract.
JCEA is a local affiliate of the Colorado Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. After contentious discussions over employee leave days for association business, as well as the issue of PERA contributions, JCEA requested a short break and upon returning declared that they could not make progress on any issues and officially declared an impasse.
According to talking points the union distributed to its members ahead of the meeting, one of the sticking points appeared to be the idea that the district would be “charging” employees for PERA contributions rather than having taxpayers pick up all of the retirement increases.
This idea fails to take into account that State law requires SAED PERA contributions come from “money otherwise available for compensation increases.” In 2014-15 that SAED portion will equal $14.4 million. These are dollars that should be allocated to PERA before any other compensation increases are considered.
In addition to all compensation issues, each side brings two items to negotiate. The Board proposed discussing class sizes and staff leave. They were interested in making certain that leaves made the most sense for teachers and students and raised concerns over tax-funded leave days for union business. JCEA opened up conversations around workload, and a desire to extend the contract’s expiration date. Their request to extend the union contract until 2018 or 2019 encountered resistance from district negotiators. The agreement is set to be opened for full discussion and renewal in 2015, but union leaders want to take the unprecedented step of extending it now.
Mediation also means that the workload committee that had been established in round three will no longer meet. This result could shut out the voices of elementary and high school teachers that would have been recruited to inform the decision. Mediators typically talk to negotiators on each side, not teachers, so it remains to be seen if teachers will be queried on their preferences regarding changes in work-load.
JCEA officials are familiar with invoking impasse procedures, a tactic that continues negotiations by other means. Back in 2007 contract negotiations went to mediation over the district’s attempt to remove a unique and costly grievance protection for teachers who had not earned formal tenure status. The union refused an across-the-board 6 percent raise offered in exchange for phasing out the special job protection. In 2009, the JCEA objected to the size of ongoing pay increases versus district reserve fund balances.
At the time this article went to print, there is no public record of the outcomes of the last two mediations. If the union will not return to the bargaining table where negotiations take place in public, let’s hope the outcomes of this year’s mediation will be more transparent.