Educators union says it was left out of bargaining

August 24, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Sun Staff Writer

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education yesterday told the leaders of three of four unions their members could receive a promised longevity raise after all -- in exchange for concessions in the health-care package.

However, the fourth and smallest union -- the Association of Educational Leaders -- was not invited to yesterday's bargaining sessions, according to its president, Richard Kovelant.

"It's ironic that the one union that decided to address its rights in court is the one systematically excluded," Mr. Kovelant said.

The AEL filed suit last Wednesday in Anne Arundel Circuit Court in an attempt to force the school board to award the longevity raise, which was part of the negotiated contracts for all four unions. AEL represents about 250 principals and administrators.

The school board had said previously that it did not have the $3.2 million necessary to give the raise to eligible employees.

"How can they offer that package to the other three unions and not to us?" Mr. Kovelant said. "Three people get invited to the bargaining table and I'm Cinderella. You don't penalize people for seeking redress. Either they've got the money, or they don't."

Michael A. Pace, president of the school board, said he was "cautiously optimistic" the dispute with the unions could be resolved in the near future, but declined to comment on the deal offered.

As for Mr. Kovelant's complaint about not being invited to the bargaining table, Mr. Pace said he was "surprised and confused" because the school board has invited AEL to negotiate repeatedly since June.

"Their reaction has been to avoid negotiations and to substitute litigation for negotiation," Mr. Pace said.

The school board blamed the County Council for its inability to pay for the raise that is given solely based on length of service in the school system.

The council trimmed the school board's $444 million operating budget request to $408 million. The council specified that $1.7 million it cut from the health-care budget should be put toward the longevity raise, along with money the board would save by not filling certain requested positions.

But Mr. Pace said the issue is that the council can't tell the school board how to spend the money. By not specifically funding the raise, he said, the school board was pushed to enact a clause that allows it to renegotiate portions of the contract if the council doesn't provide enough money to cover those costs.

In an unusual show of solidarity, the four unions -- the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County (TAAAC), Local 1693 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), and the Secretaries and Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County (SAAAC) -- have until this week refused to negotiate.

John R. Kurpjuweit, TAAAC president, refused to comment on the deal the union was offered until after a meeting tonight to discuss the plan with the union's board of directors.

"Let's just say I'm not sitting here crying," Mr. Kurpjuweit said.

Jim Pickens, president of Local 1693 of AFSCME, confirmed that the offer to concede health benefits for the raise had been made, and said it also included a union concession to accept 4 cents less per mile as reimbursement for traveling in a personal car.

Dee Zepp, of the secretaries association, could not be reached for comment last night.

Mr. Kovelant said part of the problem between AEL and the school board now is that the lawsuit raises two issues: whether it is the board, or the council, that dictates how education dollars are ultimately spent, and the power of collective bargaining.

"If we win, great, they'd have to do what's in the contract," Mr. Kovelant said.

"If we lose, there's no more collective bargaining. What would be the use if they can just say 'No, we're not going to honor a contract'?"

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