One day following an announcement by the Harford County Education Association that an impasse had been reached and mediation would be sought in the bargaining union’s labor negotiations with the Harford County Board of Education, the school system issued a press release of its own indicating that the school board had offered the union, and all employees, an extra day of paid leave for next year.
Negotiations between the school board and employees’ attorney, who also works as a workers comp attorney, were triggered when the county budget for next year was approved without funding for salary increases outlined a tentative labor agreement previously negotiated with the Harford County Education Association (HCEA) and shared by other employee units. HCEA represents teachers, and is the largest bargaining union in Harford County Public Schools. The tentative agreement had called for a 3% cost of living increase for all school employees, plus step and longevity increases for eligible workers.
Here is the release from Harford County Public Schools:
PAID BONUS DAY OFFERED TO HCPS EMPLOYEES
Board of Education offers extra paid day of leave to all employees in renegotiations
The Board of Education of Harford County offered an extra day of paid leave to employees in lieu of previously negotiated compensation items that have not been funded by the funding authorities in the 2011-12 budget. On the bonus day identified by the Board of Education, employees will not be required to report for work but will be paid for the day.
On January 21, 2011, the Board of Education and the Harford County Education Association (HCEA), which represents approximately 3,200 Harford County Public Schools (HCPS) employees, including teachers, guidance counselors, psychologists, media specialists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and speech and hearing clinicians, agreed to terms on a negotiated agreement for the 2011-12 school year. The agreement was subsequently ratified by both parties.
Following the approval of the county budget and as a result of unavailable funds for salary increases, the Board of Education and HCEA, as well as the Harford County Education Services Council (HCESC), entered into renegotiations with the Board of Education. HCESC has tentatively agreed to a final resolution of a renegotiated contracted to include the bonus day of paid leave.
Although renegotiations with HCEA have not been resolved, no impasse has been declared at this time. Per the Fairness in Negotiations Act (FINA), only the Public Labor Relations Board (PLRB) may formally declare impasse. The Board of Education has not been made aware any impasse request filed by HCEA to the PLRB to date. The current, ratified FY12 contract with HCEA is in place with the exception of the compensation item.
“The Board of Education appreciates and values the hard-work and dedication of all of our employees and we worked diligently to identify an offering within our means to recognize that appreciation,” said Board President Mark M. Wolkow. “The Board sincerely regrets that the funding was not available to provide the compensation increase.”
The other three HCPS employee bargaining units, Association of Harford County Administrative, Technical and Supervisory Professionals (AHCATSP), Association of Public School Administrators and Supervisors of Harford County (APSACHC), and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), are currently under contract and will also receive the paid bonus day of leave next school year.
In December 2009, the Board of Education initiated a partially-open collective bargaining process by establishing a website to distribute pertinent information to the bargaining process. Additional information regarding renegotiations has been posted and can be found on the school system website at www.hcps.org by clicking on the ‘Board’ tab.
The press release from the Board counters one issued the previous day by HCEA President Randy Cerveny, indicating that the parties were at an impasse and that the union had hired a financial consultant who identified funds that could be shifted within the school system’s budget to cover the cost of salary increases for next year:
“HCEA and HCPS held a bargaining session today, June 16, in order for HCEA to hear if the Board of Education would agree to some compensation for the 2011/12 school year. HCPS employees have not had any salary increases for the last two years. HCEA hired a financial consultant who pointed out to the Board of Education where he believed there was money to cover this cost. Additionally over the last 10years Harford County Government has steadily decreased the percentage of the total county budget that is used to fund education.
Unfortunately,the Board of Education is claiming they have no money for any increases for employees. Therefore, the HCEA bargaining team, with the support of the president, Randy Cerveny, has told the Board of Education that we are at impasse and will now notify the newly-founded independent labor board of same and request mediation.”
HCEA President Randy Cerveny told The Dagger that HCEA’s financial consultant identified funds that could be shifted within the schools’ budget to pay for salary increases, but that the requested shift would not involve cuts to existing staff. “We wouldn’t do that,” Cerveny said. While he declined to offer specifics as to the exact source of funds, Cerveny said that he believed the school board could be compelled, under the newly enacted Fairness in Negotiations Act, to make the shift within their budget if the mediator finds that funds are available, and if the bargaining process continues through to binding arbitration.
While Cerveny said that HCEA operates with guidance from attorneys with the Maryland State Education Association, a March 2010 opinion from the office of the Attorney General of Maryland raises questions about whether binding arbitration, called for under the Fairness in Negotiations Act, would necessarily be binding on local school boards. The opinion states that when funding is not made available to implement a previously negotiated agreement, the local school board must enter re-negotiations, but “the final determination rests with the school board.” The full text of the AG opinion appears below.
But sources close to the issue say that the law is murky enough and new enough that such questions may ultimately be resolved in court.