Potential legislation affecting public school labor negotiations prompted angry charges from Harford County Board of Education member John Smilko last Monday night.
At the school board’s business meeting in Bel Air, Smilko said a bill pending in the Maryland General Assembly would benefit unions and would be “the Governor’s payback to the teachers’ union for supporting slots”. Smilko concluded “Anything is for sale in Annapolis.”
Smilko was one of several board members who expressed concerns in response to a report by Governmental Relations Coordinator Kathy Carmello and supporting comments from Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Jon O’Neal, warning that the anticipated legislation may seek to establish a Public School Labor Relations Board which would allow for labor issues, such as salary increases, to be resolved through binding arbitration. Under current law, disputes between school board representatives and local unions are subject to non-binding arbitration.
O’Neal said it was unclear whether binding arbitration would also apply to local funding authorities and that matters such as class size could become permissible or even mandatory bargaining issues under the proposed law.
The warnings from school officials were based on previous bills proposed, but not passed in the last two legislative sessions. Officials said they had not yet seen details of this years’ bill. Here’s an excerpt from Ms. Carmello’s report:
Binding arbitration decisions will have a serious local impact on local budgets.
Balanced budgets will then be impacted by the decisions of the board which could result in loss of dollars to the classroom.
This legislation would lead to an increase in the number of challenges to local board decisions as bargaining units will likely seek to overturn 40 years of law on what are illegal, permissive, and mandatory subjects of bargaining. These challenges will result in significant administrative and legal expenses to local school systems.
Smilko said if such a bill were to pass, the authority of local boards would be undermined as unions sought to “litigate everything”. He also said the make up of a Public School Labor Relations Board would guarantee decisions favoring the unions since its members would be appointed by the Governor, who is being advised by a former union official.
Pat Foerster is a past president of the Maryland State Teachers Association and is now the Education Policy Advisor in the Governor’s Appointments Office. Notably, Foerster is also responsible for vetting the Governor’s appointments to the Harford County Board of Education.
The “Fairness in Labor Bill”, as it is being called, is still in the draft stage so the actual provisions are not yet known. State Senator Barry Glassman was rumored to be a co-sponsor of the bill, but he says that assumption is premature. Glassman says he has not yet seen the bill’s language or signed on, but added “I have always been supportive of teachers’ right to bargain and arbitrate with local boards within certain parameters.”
Harford County Education Association President Randy Cerveny says concerns about the bill are misplaced because this year’s bill will be different from years past. Cerveny provided The Dagger with a summary of the bill prepared by the Maryland State Teachers’ Association, which is helping to write the bill.
Here is a summary of that bill:
The proposal this year will establish a neutral third party to resolve differences between the public school employer and the employee representative within an established timeline with the arbitrator’s decision binding on both parties. The fiscal relationship between the board of education and the county is not affected or changed.
– In the 34 states where education employees have collective bargaining, only Maryland allows the State Board of Education to decide disputes over labor issues between the local public school employer and the employee association. In every other state, an independent body resolves the differences between the parties.
– The bill establishes a fair process for a neutral third party to mediate and then if necessary arbitrate contract negotiation disputes between a local public school employer and the public school employees.
– There is no cost to the state; the costs are split between the parties.
– The bill reduces a possible 2 year long delay in settling a contract to a six month process.
– The bill does not change the county’s fiscal authority over the school system budget.
Cerveny said he hasn’t seen a final draft, but the bill does not establish a Public School Labor Relations Board and would not allow currently illegal issues such as class size, to be negotiated. Cerveny said via email that the bill does give binding authority to an independent arbitrator and sets a timeline for resolving issues when negotiating teams reach impasse:
Currently if we go to impasse, the proceedings can last indefinitely, we meet with an arbitrator who reviews the proposals of both sides and mediates a compromise based on data of both parties. Teacher[s] in the spirit of the bargaining law accept the ruling of the mediator. The BOE generally ignores the decision.
With the new law the total length of time the proceeding could be drawn out would be 120 days from start to finish. The mediator would still review the findings, but the findings would be binding to both sides. Financial issues would still be handled as they had been before. In other words it would depend on the decision of the County Council, just like it is now. If the county cannot afford the money they would not be forced to fund it. This bill would generally resolve language and employer/employee issues at impasse even though financial issues could be on the negotiations table. There are currently many items that are illegal issues to discuss during negotiations, such as class size, calendar and many others. …. class size could not be discussed during negotiations and this bill would not impact the illegal topics to be discussed.
Will the Fairness in Labor bill allow new issues at the bargaining table and will binding arbitration cause a “loss of dollars to the classroom” as school officials warn? Or will the bill create a timely way to “resolve…issues at impasse” through an independent mediator, as union officials assert? Either way, Fairness in Labor looks like a bill worth watching.