Timing Is Everything
Wisconsin Traditionally, the School District of Grafton settled contracts with the Grafton Paraprofessional and Aides Association (GPAA) right after negotiating with teachers. This made education support professionals (ESPs) feel as if they were getting “the leftovers, money-wise,” according to one bargaining team member. So, the team decided to delay the start of negotiations until after the current ESP contract had almost expired and well after the teachers had settled their contract. The tactic worked. The parties agreed to a three-year contract that brings a $0.75 per hour increase the first year, followed by $0.85 and $1 increases.
“By going to a three-year contract, we were able to spread things out,” says Pam Nuñez, head negotiator. “Now, we won’t be negotiating the same year as teachers.” Though reaching a full living wage for all Grafton ESPs remains to be achieved, “the numbers they were throwing at us were bigger than they ever had been before,” says Kim Provencher, associate director of North Shore United Educators, the bargaining team GPAA is affiliated with.
Florida The Florida Education Association (FEA) filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a provision in the state budget that created a teacher bonus program based primarily on student learning gains on standardized tests. FEA opposes the plan, called Special Teachers Are Rewarded (STAR), because it was enacted with conditions in the state’s budget and creates changes to existing performance pay laws. It also arbitrarily caps the number of instructional personnel who are eligible for performance pay to 25 percent and calls for changes in how they are evaluated, excluding collective bargaining. The program also threatens school collegiality by pitting teachers against each other for bonus money in a state where teacher pay runs $6,000 below the national average, say FEA officials.
Colorado After a long bargaining session last fall, the Pueblo Education Association (PEA) and school board agreed to work with a fact-finder (a neutral third party chosen by both sides). After board members rejected the advised settlement, both parties returned to the bargaining table with help from a federal mediator and settled on a 2.45 percent increase this year and 2.2 percent in 2007–08. To mend relations and help facilitate future negotiations, all agreed that PEA President Carole Partin will join the district’s strategic planning committee, and a PEA member will serve on the budget oversight committee. “The opportunity for our Association to participate in strategic planning and decision-making is a huge step,” Partin says.
Playing the Percentages
Tennessee The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) organized its 60-80-90 Campaign to get the state legislature to provide retiring teachers with at least a 60 percent benefit (currently at 48 percent), cover at least 80 percent of active teachers’ insurance premiums (the state pays 45 percent for individuals), and guarantee teacher salaries to be at least 90 percent of the national average ($49,109 for the 50 states and Washington, D.C.). The campaign started with eight regional meetings attended by local Association leaders, bargaining chairs, negotiators, and even school board members and superintendents. “We asked them to arrive with creative campaign ideas that involve members,” says Earl Wiman, TEA president. The campaign includes cyber-lobbying by members, and enlisting the support of parents, legislators, and business and community leaders.
Kentucky and Utah The National Public Pension Coalition, of which NEA President Reg Weaver is chair and secretary, is providing assistance to the Kentucky Education Association and other state labor unions during their battle with legislators who are debating a new pension benefit structure for new employees. At press time, the governor had threatened to call a special session to resolve the issue. Meanwhile, the Utah Education Association blocked proposed legislation to establish a defined-contribution benefit plan for new employees.
New Unit, New Laws
Washington Members of the nine-month-old Education Service Employees of College Place have recruited 40 out of the 45 eligible paraprofessionals, custodians, food service, and secretarial staff. “Even though we have to negotiate an entire contract, the three main areas of concern are employee labor laws, employee labor laws, and employee labor laws, with a dash of increased wages, please,” says paraprofessional and local President Cyndi Mehling.