School board, unions to begin contract negotiations Oct. 5

September 15, 1994|By Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel | Carol L. Bowers and Andrea F. Siegel,Sun Staff Writers

After a bitter summer that pitted the Anne Arundel County school unions against the school board, the two sides must now learn to trust each other as they begin contract negotiations.

The monthslong process, which starts Oct. 5, comes just after relations between the four unions and the school board hit bottom. The unions represent 7,300 employees.

"In successful negotiations each side must trust the other side," said Jim Pickens, president of Local 1693 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "With the behavior they've been showing for the past few months it's difficult to trust them, and evidently they didn't trust us, which is why they played the game."

Mr. Pickens said labor-management relations within the school system are at "an historical low point and rapidly deteriorating."

In the past two years, the teachers' union has sued over an earlier contract and there have been complaints about maintenance workers not having needed equipment and a change in the summer flex hours of secretaries.

"It's a question of credibility," said Richard Kovelant, executive director of the Association of Educational Leaders, which represents principals and administrators. "It's not that they don't negotiate a contract in good faith. It's their performance."

Commonly, the school board renegotiates some line items in contracts it has passed because those contracts are settled before the County Council approves its budget. Such was the case this summer.

The council trimmed the school board's $444 million budget request to $408 million and specified that the $1.7 million cut from the health-care budget be put toward longevity raises.

In figuring the $408 million operating budget, the board decided there wasn't enough money to cover the $3.2 million needed to give longevity raises for all employees.

The board then decided to renegotiate portions of the contract with the unions.

Initially, the four unions said they would not discuss renegotiating the longevity raises.

The standoff led to a lawsuit filed by AEL and a counter suit filed by the school board.

In an uncharacteristic show of solidarity, the other three unions vowed to stage a job action to support AEL.

By the time AEL settled, the other employee unions had given up some health care benefits in exchange for the longevity raise, which had been part of the contract.

The time spent resolving this summer's disputes has made for a late start in crafting the proposals for next month.

Union officials said this probably means nonsalary issues will be given greater importance.

"We're not harboring any deep hostile feeling toward the board," said John R. Kurpjuweit, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County. But, he said, the unions "are never going to be able to forget" the board's actions of this past summer.

Michael Pace, school board president, said he wasn't too concerned about the union rhetoric and said the board was ready to start anew.

"I think a lot of what you are hearing is normal noise that surroundslabor negotiations," he said.

Mr. Kovelant, AEL's president, said the board could still do a better job negotiating.

He compared the process to the children's game of "telephone," in which a message is whispered from one person to another with the end result being a garbled version of the original message.

He said the board's negotiating team takes his written proposal to a larger staff team, which forwards it with recommendations to the board.

"For 29 cents, I can deliver that message," he said. That system, is "probably the single largest cause for a break-down in communications. . . . It's the goofiest thing you ever saw."

Ronald L. Beckett, associate superintendent for support services disagreed. He said staff negotiators can make agreements, though the board gives the final approval.

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