The Flagstaff Education Association (FEA) presented its application for formal recognition to the Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) Board of Trustees during a business session prior to its May 10 meeting.
Union representatives had already made public comments calling for the effort to be reviewed at the April 26 meeting, and several members and other teachers came to the meeting after the work session to speak out in favor of it. .
FEA is already the district union; what they are trying to achieve is formal district recognition through a district-wide employee vote.
“Our very strong goal is to get a process of recognition into district politics by the end of the school year so that we can leave for the summer and know that next year we can commit to this. process,” FEA President and Coconino High School (CHS) said English teacher Derek Born.
The recognition process for private employers is governed by national labor relations law, Born said.
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A petition signed by at least 30% of employees is required to trigger a vote (led by the National Labor Relations Board) and, if the majority of staff vote in favour, employers are required to recognize the union.
The law does not cover public employers, such as FUSD, so the right will have to be put into policy by FUSD’s board of directors, part of the FEA’s focus for the effort. The organization is asking the district to hold a vote among its employees to determine whether the union should be allowed to represent them. He has been circulating a petition for the past few weeks that has been signed by 68% of FUSD educators.
The current FUSD system involves representatives elected by the staff – which usually includes FEA members.
The representatives of the bargaining committee were the subject of action by the FEA at the start of the school year. In August, the board proposed a change to its meeting and conferencing policy (Policy H) that would prohibit organization leaders, including ATFs, from holding these roles. It was later amended into the version of the agreement approved by the Board of Directors.
“Which is of course the exact opposite of what we’re looking for,” Born said of the changes originally proposed. “I think that’s what really started to ignite the fire.”
Born added: “If they can push for something so shocking and surprising to us without advance warning, without an offer to sit down and talk about their issues, we need to push in a more concerted and organized way, ensure staff voices are centered.
What the FEA proposed at the working session would give the organization the ability to appoint people to liaison and representation roles for certified employees (one each for elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as licensed professionals ) in the bargaining committee, which totals one vote.
There are four votes in total: one each for Certified, Classified, Administrative, and District employees.
“A union certified to represent a group of employees would then be free to appoint a liaison and bargaining agent for this group. Employees would all be aware of exactly what they were voting for, before they voted,” association representative and CHS English teacher Jim McDermott said of the changes.
Liaison and Certified Representative positions are all currently held by FEA members, with Born serving as Certified Liaison.
This change “isn’t some sort of radical overhaul of the system itself; people from the association are already in those seats,” Born said.
“It’s more about letting…educators in our district have what they’re asking for – which is the ability to make it formal and give more public respect and recognition to the association, if the staff votes for it. Having the ability to legitimize that voice and make sure everyone knows employees voted for it and it’s not just an outside entity. It’s about making sure people understand the value, that it’s fully recognized.
One specific perk mentioned by Born in his presentation was last year’s salary negotiation. He said the FEA’s involvement helped turn the increase from $1.48 million (a 2.5% increase for all employees) to a $2.92 million increase (5 % for all employees), through meetings with the AEA and further analysis of the school’s finances.
“The point is, there is no other voice on the compensation committee that is capable of changing history for the good of all in this particular way,” he said. “And it has nothing to do with intelligence or skill. It is the organizational capacity and resources of our teachers’ union built up over generations through the sacrifices of dues-paying members. … Everything is essential, everything works together, but it is no exaggeration to say that without AEA and FEA, the increase for all employees would have been considerably lower last year in particular.
The presentations were interrupted by questions from the FUSD Board of Directors. Member Christine Fredericks expressed concern that allowing the FEA to appoint members to the bargaining committee would prevent employees who are not members from having a voice.
“You are asking that the FEA be the only one at the table, closing the door to non-members who would like to participate,” she said.
Born also said other successful organizing efforts helped raise the issue at the time.
“Although we’re so low overall, we’re at an all-time low in unionization, maybe we’re starting to see the reverse of that tide,” Born said. “I guess watching their private sector sisters and brothers fight these battles and achieve at least some initial victories was very inspiring and made us think twice about our strategy and maybe push it more publicly.”
The council asked the FEA to provide more details on how the new system would work and how it would differ from the current method of representation, along with examples of comparable district policies.
The next discussion of this policy has not yet been set.
A recording of the working session is available at vimeo.com/706804269.