No settlement reached as district, support staff restart negotiations

A crowd of Charles City district support staff gather in the North Grand cafeteria as the Charles City Educational Services Associations team, at the front table, wait for the administrative negotiations team on Wednesday.  Press photo by Kate Hayden
A crowd of Charles City district support staff gathers in the North Grand cafeteria as the Charles City Educational Services Associations team, at the front table, waits for the administrative negotiations team on Wednesday. Press photo by Kate Hayden
By Kate Hayden,

The Charles City school district administration did not settle contract negotiations with support staff on Wednesday, in the first meeting two months after changes in Iowa’s Chapter 20 law forced a negotiations restart.

More than 50 district support staff members and observers were present in the North Grand building cafeteria, as the Charles City Educational Services Association team presented the administration with an initial proposal.

The association team was joined by Jason Enke, regional director of the Iowa State Education Association.

Before the administrative negotiations team presented its proposal, Charles City Board of Education member Robin Macomber addressed the crowded cafeteria.

“We heard rumors that were said that [board President] Scott Dight and I would get rid of the aides,” Macomber said. “Look at this room. How would the school district operate without the aides? It would not.”

“There was a rumor [that] we were going to cut your wages to $10 an hour,” Macomber said. “I’m not going to do that to you.”

The administration and association both agreed on a base wage increase of 3 percent in 2017-18 and an additional 3 percent increase in 2018-19, but hangups in language and the new law’s interpretation kept an agreement from being reached in closed session negotiations.

The association’s initial proposal led with an item that would have established a joint labor management committee between district administration and the association.

The committee would be a utility to discuss and make decisions on issues no longer allowed under changes in Iowa collective bargaining law, such as on insurance, Enke told the Press as the administrative team was in deliberations.

The administration returned with an initial proposal that deleted parts of or all of 12 articles in the current contract agreements.

Most of those deletions are no longer allowed to be included under Iowa law, district Superintendent Dan Cox said, although a few items were permissive, meaning school districts and union employees could still bargain over the topics.

The administration’s proposal did not include the proposed labor management committee because the administration did not feel it had to be included in a master contract, Cox later told the Press.

“It’s not a flat rejection of the concept,” Cox said. “We intend to pursue some type of management committee to seek employee input. Anytime it goes into the contract, it becomes more permanent than things that are not included in the contract.

“We could still accomplish that in other avenues,” Cox added.

In a phone call with the Press, Enke said making a management committee part of the contract was meant to guarantee its existence.

“The simple answer is if we don’t agree in the contract to have a labor management committee … that doesn’t mean we couldn’t have one, but it doesn’t mean we will,” Enke said.

“The committee doesn’t bind anything to anybody anyway, the school board still makes those decisions,” he said. “We just would hope that they would be willing to sit down. I guess I don’t understand why they don’t want to do that.”

Publicly, the administration team and Enke disagreed over which articles were necessary to delete under Iowa law, such as the administration’s proposal to delete the entire seniority clause from contract.

Enke argued the administration was taking away clauses from support staff that were still permissible, and that the administration had allowed for teachers — who settled with administration in February, the day before Gov. Terry Branstad signed collective bargaining changes into law.

“With the teachers you reached an agreement that didn’t take away any permissive items on their contract, didn’t take away seniority, but right now you’re telling this group part of a settlement has to include taking seniority out of the contract,” Enke told the administrative team.

“When you start off by saying, ‘we value you, you’re all here, we could never do that,’ you didn’t show the same values,” Enke said. “You came to the teacher group, you offered current contract, $600 increase, a drop in the insurance — of course that got a settlement.

“You came to support staff and said, ‘we have to have all these things that are coming out of your contract … give us those things, or we don’t settle.’ That’s why this team decided we’re not going to settle.”

“The law changed, but you guys are doing things that are beyond the law,” Enke added.

The district’s attorney removed articles and article sections according to his interpretation of the new collective bargaining law, Cox told the Press.

“[Enke] talked about, ‘you settled with the teachers but you didn’t include seniority language with them.’ No we didn’t, because we were able to negotiate an agreement before the law changed, and before the law changed that was still allowed to be negotiable,” Cox said.

Enke told the Press he would speak with attorneys about articles over which the association disagreed with administration.

“There’s several of the articles that are now excluded from bargaining because of closed law. We agree with some of those. The district says there are some articles now excluded, and we don’t necessarily agree with that,” Enke said. “The third set are some of the articles that both sides know are permissible, and the district is just choosing to remove them. They haven’t provided any good rationale to do that.”

Public discussion between the administration and association teams became tense as Enke, Macomber and Board of Education member Lorraine Winterink discussed the administration omitting the labor management committee proposal.

“Robin and I sitting here representing the board, really don’t have the authority — we can speak and take things back to the board but we can’t say, let’s make changes or let’s agree on different terms that this labor management committee wants to discuss,” Winterink said.

“You don’t have the authority to agree to a labor management committee?” Enke asked. “You’re the bargaining team. If you don’t have the authority to bargain, you shouldn’t be here.”

Board members individually do not have the authority to make decisions without the rest of the Board of Education, Cox said.

“You don’t understand how a school board works?” Macomber asked.

“We’ve been very professional and came here with a proposal, and you guys have made a proposal that started with ‘we value you’ and ended with ‘we’re taking all this away from you and we don’t need you at the table, we don’t have authority to do this, we’ll do this our way,'” Enke said in response.

Later, Cox told the Press that Enke was mischaracterizing the district during discussions.

“He was portraying everything as negatively as you could against the district,” Cox said. “You heard me say [in discussion] that our starting pay just for our instructional assistants, you would have to work for 15 years [in Decorah] to earn what we give just as a starting pay … By adding on 29 cents, if we did that, I’m pretty confident it’s higher than the raise that support staff are getting in neighboring districts.

“If we were really treating them badly, we’d be shooting for the bottom of the pack instead of shooting for the top of the pack,” Cox said. “This is a team effort. We’d love to get to a settlement as soon as we can and keep moving forward.”

Speaking with the Press, Enke said the administration and the association meet again in two weeks for closed session negotiations. Enke also said he stood by his public comments about the administration.

“There’s always two sides of the story, and we’re on two sides of the table,” Enke said.