Attacks on teachers and what the UEA is doing


9/1/2011

As I travel around the state visiting with educators, I am continually amazed by your dedication to your students. It’s clear to me that Utah’s teachers are committed to improving student learning and enhancing the teaching profession. I want you to know that the UEA is committed to supporting you in these goals.

I also hear concerns expressed about what many of us perceive as attacks on teachers and our profession and what the UEA is doing about it. I’d like to provide a few details…

What happened in Ogden?

I am often asked about what happened this summer when the Ogden City Board of Education issued the ultimatum to its teachers – sign a “common” contract or your jobs will be advertised for hire. The questions I get are varied, but most focus on why we didn’t sue the school district, or why Ogden Education Association members signed their contracts at all.

To help answer these questions, I asked our legal counsel, Tracey M. Watson, to explain key details about the Ogden Education Association crisis (see below). Please know that within hours of the news breaking about Ogden, a team of UEA and NEA (National Education Association) specialists went to work, looking at options to help our OEA colleagues. To date, more than 250 staff/leader hours have been logged in defense of the OEA. My thanks go to the all the OEA leaders and members who put in countless hours of service and to all those around the state who worked so hard in support of Ogden teachers.

Attacks on our Association and our rights…

In a recent letter to legislative leaders, the Chairmen of the Education Interim Committee requested to add two critical issues—the elimination of collective bargaining for public education employees and a prohibition on collecting association dues from workers’ paychecks—as Committee priority items (read more here).

This move is certainly no surprise. These proposals are part of a national agenda to privatize our public schools. Those promoting this movement view public school teachers and their associations as an obstacle to their privatization agenda. We’ve seen the same tactics play out in several other states (such as Wisconsin, Alabama, Ohio, New Jersey) where the result has been rallies, sit-ins, recall elections, lawsuits, frustrated public employees and utter chaos. Even proponents are hard pressed to point to a single non-political positive result from those attempts to weaken the rights of teachers and other public employees.

I believe these attacks weaken the ability of all groups to work together for benefit of children. Teachers should have a clear voice in determining policies that impact their jobs and their students’ learning environment. Collective bargaining through a strong teachers’ association ensures this voice. These attacks tell teachers they don’t matter. Politicians supporting this agenda demonstrate a clear lack of respect for the teaching profession and a lack of understanding the role collaboration plays in student success.

It’s important for you to know that not all legislators support the ‘attack the teachers’ agenda. We have many friends, on both sides of the political aisle, who stand with teachers and support our rights. From the moment these proposals came to light, the UEA has been working behind the scenes to combat them.

Our need to work together

Because of these attacks, it is more important than ever that we unify around the goal of providing a quality education for every student. As teachers, we know schools work best when everyone works together. Rather than attacking and belittling teachers and our association, our elected officials should be looking to educators for answers—treating teachers with the dignity and respect I know you all deserve.

Everyone – teachers, parents, students, schools, communities, elected officials, school boards – should be partners in building quality public schools.

I want to personally thank each one of you for your dedication and your commitment to students and our profession. By working together, I believe we can provide a quality public education for all Utah students.

I hope you have a great school year and wish you the very best.

Sincerely,

Sharon

 

 

Ogden: A Review by UEA General Counsel Tracey M. Watson

As your new Director of Legal Services and General Counsel for the UEA (105 days of service at the time of this writing), I was asked to explain some of the details regarding the legal analysis of the OEA/OCSD 2011-2012 contract. In short, this message attempts to explain what happened in Ogden and why maintaining your membership and becoming more active members is more important than ever.

Just because the UEA and OEA opted not to bring a lawsuit on behalf of the Ogden teachers does not mean we did not care to defend our teachers. Rather, we did and we do care to zealously defend our teachers and, in doing so, we made a deliberate decision not to file a lawsuit for the reasons explained below.

The facts and circumstances leading up to the Ogden City School District’s (“OCSD” or the “District”) decision to abandon the bargaining table were a perfect legal storm. However, the ultimate inquiry to which the District and the Board have yet to adequately respond is: for the sake of argument, even if OCSD’s actions were deemed lawful, in light of the fact that no one ever discussed the idea of performance pay with our teachers or the OEA negotiation team, what moral and ethical considerations supported their decision to abandon a collective bargaining process that had been successful for decades? Why would they further diminish the morale of Ogden teachers who remain dedicated to teaching Ogden students? The bottom line is that we, and the OEA, wanted to ensure that our members in Ogden did not lose their jobs.

At the OEA Rally on July 14, Dr. Donald Thomas described OCSD’s actions in refusing to engage in collective bargaining as an extremist force. “Today we are at war. Not in Iraq. Not in Afghanistan. Not in Libya. Our war is with extremist forces in our own society who are hell-bent on destroying American Public Education. It is happening in Wisconsin, in New Jersey, in Ohio and in several other states. The conflict is not over budget, or merit pay, or teacher evaluation. It is simply an attempt to designate teachers as the enemy and to break the Union.” Whether OCSD walked away from the collective bargaining table because they no longer care about teachers, or because they do not yet understand that teachers are not the problem and need to be part of the solution, or because they carefully and deliberately planned such an attack with an ultimate and undisclosed political agenda, the appropriate response to such actions should never be impulsive. The response that is in the best interest of the students and teachers must be one that is well planned and well organized.

Prior to taking any legal action, the legal team carefully considered the facts and the law. First, the legal team considered the facts. The undisputed facts leading to OCSD’s unilateral contract offer were as follows:

  • Ogden teachers had worked without a written contract for two years.
  • When the 2009-2010 negotiations ended absent an agreement, Ogden teachers returned to their classrooms because their students needed them to and because it was the right thing to do.
  • Unfortunately, collective bargaining on the 2010-2011 contract proceeded to impasse; and OCSD refused to follow the findings and recommendations made by the former Chief Justice of the Utah Supreme Court, Michael Zimmerman.
  • Specifically, OCSD refused to listen to Mr. Zimmerman’s plea that they pay attention to the need to boost teacher morale.
  • Thereafter, OCSD responded with a unilateral offer to use the federal EDUJobs funds to allow the teachers a one-time stipend and some other minor benefits and declared negotiations on the 2010-2011 contract over.
  • It was at that point that OCSD ended the bargaining impasse.
  • Thereafter, OCSD and OEA should have returned to the bargaining table to commence negotiations on the 2011-2012 contact.
  • OCSD failed to enter into a single negotiated conversation with OEA regarding the 2011-2012 contract.
  • More notably, OCSD failed to make any whisper or mention regarding their desire to formulate a contract based upon performance pay.
  • Rather, OCSD broke with more than 50 years of tradition of successful collective bargaining and presented Ogden teachers with a unilateral contract offer: a written contract, for a limited duration of one year that included the appearance of some kind of pay increase.
  • Finally, in delivering the unilateral contract to Ogden teachers, OCSD did not tell the Ogden teachers “sign or you’re fired.” Rather, OCSD deliberately advised Ogden teachers “sign or we will advertise your jobs for hire.”

Second, the legal team conducted an extensive examination of case law and legal precedent. Fortunately, all members of OEA are members of UEA and NEA. In addition to utilizing the services of the NEA’s best and brightest labor and employment law attorneys, I researched valuable information written by former UEA General Counsel Mike McCoy, who took the necessary steps to protect his beloved members by painstakingly documenting in detail the history of collective bargaining in Utah, including producing numerous articles and manuals outlining and summarizing the common law surrounding collective bargaining disputes. Despite my background as a litigator with many years spent in the courtroom, after an exhaustive legal analysis, the conclusion was reached to advise our teachers in Ogden to execute and return their employment contracts to the District. The legal alternatives available at the time we had to make the decision – to advise our teachers not to sign, to sign under duress, to respond with a quixotic lawsuit – would take a considerable amount of time, perhaps months or years, to play out in the courts. These alternatives would therefore likely all be detrimental to our teachers, could be detrimental to the Association, and quite possibly would be detrimental to the collective bargaining process for public school teachers throughout Utah.

When the OCSD 2009-2010 contract expired and the 2010-2011 contract negotiations ended, so did the bargaining between OCSD and OEA. And, for reasons not yet fully or fairly disclosed by the District, Ogden employed those facts and circumstances to walk away from the table and impose a unilateral contract absent any input from its teachers. The District did continue to negotiate with its classified personnel.

In summary, the legal options available to Ogden teachers under these facts and circumstances were grim. However, because membership in the Association does more for educators than bring protracted and costly lawsuits and bargain contracts, the Association turned its attention to what it does best: gather resources and turn the energies and focus to building better relationships with other districts, educate and inform the public about Ogden’s employment of extremist forces and ideas through a public relations campaign; and gather teachers and others to rally against OCSD’s oppressive conduct. Through all of this, we were in constant communication with OEA leaders because the goal was to do what they, and their members, wanted us to do. No decision was made without the OEA’s support and approval.

Fortunately, and to date, what happened in Ogden has stayed in Ogden due in large part to the strength and commitment of the Association and its members in every district and including Ogden. Your membership is now more important than ever. Our other negotiating teams have worked effortlessly to remain at the table and to avoid impasse. Our other contracts continue to be successfully negotiated through a commitment on both sides to continue with collective bargaining process.

We shouted it at the rally and must continue to communicate to the public and the people elected by the public: teachers are not the problem and teachers must be part of the solution. Despite the Ogden Board’s recent conduct, the OEA and Ogden residents continue to and must continue to put pressure on the Board members to return to the table and continue to engage in collective bargaining. Ogden teachers need to demand they be included in creating and enforcing the solution.

In conclusion, if you cannot see what your Association is doing for you, then you are too far away from your Association! Come closer. Get more involved, not less involved. We need our members now more than ever to be actively involved in their buildings and in their neighborhoods. The enemies of public education are nipping at your heels. They want to silence your voice, eliminate your right to bargain a fair contract, and put the Associations that have represented you for more than a century out of business. If you are feeling alone in your membership, reach out and contact your local. We are here for you and we need you.

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