School union talks on hold

Juneau teachers file complaint on ground rules for bargaining

Posted: Monday, February 17, 2003

Contract negotiations between Juneau teachers and the school district have stalled at the start.

The Juneau Education Association, representing about 350 teachers, last Thursday asked the state Labor Relations Agency to enforce an agreement on the ground rules for bargaining this year. The complaint was rejected on technical grounds but will be refiled under a different provision of the law.

The teachers' contract expires in June, and the union and school district agreed in December 2002 on how to conduct the negotiations. Among the agreement's provisions was a list of negotiators.

But the school district, at what would have been the start of negotiations in late January, told the union it would add a new member to its team, said the National Education Association-Alaska in its formal complaint. JEA is affiliated with NEA.

The first negotiating sessions, scheduled for Jan. 29 and 30, ended the first day when the union objected to what it saw as a breaking of the ground rules, the union said in its complaint.

On Feb. 11, at the start of a two-day bargaining session, the school district substituted Lee Wilson, an Anchorage consultant, for outgoing Superintendent Gary Bader on the negotiating team, and added new Superintendent Peggy Cowan, who will participate as her schedule allows.

That session ended Feb. 11 after the union said it would seek redress with the state.

"The main opposition that we have is, one, the unilateralism of their actions," Willie Anderson, an NEA-Alaska representative for Southeast, said today. "There's no discussion. That's where their behavior and actions are very detrimental to the bargaining process."

Cowan said in an interview Saturday that the school district has the right to determine its bargaining team, and agreed to the ground rules before it knew Bader would leave his job. Bader took a position with the state Department of Revenue.

Wilson, an education professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, would substitute for Bader and be paid $500 a day, Cowan said.

Cowan said she intends to join the bargaining team as well but won't be able to attend all the sessions because she must spend time on other district issues. She cited the high school renovation, construction of a new high school, and negotiations with the support-staff union and the administrators' union.

The Labor Relations Agency rejected the teachers' union complaint as filed, but suggested the matter could be submitted under another provision of labor law.

The union had filed a petition for the state to enforce a contract, but the ground-rules agreement isn't part of the negotiated contract, Hearing Officer Jean Ward told the union in writing late last week.

Union officials could file an unfair-labor-practices charge under the part of state law that deals with a public employer refusing to bargain in good faith, Ward said.

The union will appeal Ward's decision and file an unfair-labor-practices complaint, Anderson said.

The union and district are scheduled to negotiate Feb. 27 and 28, but Anderson said those sessions won't take place unless the state agency or the parties themselves resolve the complaint.

The JEA Web site says big issues for teachers in the negotiations are keeping up with the cost of living; movement on the salary schedule, which rewards teachers for further education and experience; district payment of health insurance premiums; and teacher preparation time.

• Eric Fry can be reached at

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