The Wapakoneta City Schools Board of Education has filed an unfair labor practice charge against its teacher union based on actions conducted during negotiations which have been extended since April between the two entities.
The school board claims that since the start of negotiations, the Wapakoneta Education Association (WEA), or teacher’s union, “has engaged in a pattern of undermining and unprofessional behavior, which unfortunately, has disrupted the bargaining process,” according to the charge filed with the State Employment Relations Board (SERB), in Columbus, by the school board’s attorney Thomas C. Holmes, of the Cleveland law firm Pepple & Waggoner.
The charge, which cites canceled meetings and different members brought to negotiating sessions, was filed last Friday. The last contract between the WEA and the Wapakoneta Schools Board of Education expired June 30.
Teachers continue to work under the expired contract.
Wapakoneta City Schools Superintendent Keith Horner declined to comment, referring questions to Holmes.
“The board has filed this unfair labor practice charge with a goal to improve the effectiveness of the bargaining process in its negotiations with the Wapakoneta Education Association,” Holmes said. “The union has canceled numerous meetings and has changed the persons on its bargaining team each time it has come to the negotiations table. These actions have hurt the progress in negotiations and form the basis of this charge.”
Shelli Jackson, labor relations consultant with the Ohio Education Association who is representing the WEA, did not return telephone calls or e-mails with questions by press time.
Union and school board negotiators were scheduled to meet again late Thursday afternoon. The afternoon of Nov. 29 they are to meet with a federal mediator, with whom they have previously met with three times.
According to the charge, at the beginning of each of the 10 bargaining sessions held since negotiations began in the spring, school board members allege that WEA officials appeared with different members on its bargaining team. After every caucus during a bargaining session, the WEA’s bargaining team would return to the table composed of different members. To date, 10 different individuals have served on the WEA’s bargaining team.
“The association’s constant replacement of bargaining team members has significantly disrupted and frustrated the bargaining process,” according to the charge filed with SERB. “Each time the bargaining team is changed, the Board of Education’s bargaining team had to spend a considerable amount of time explaining its proposals and reasons.”
By using so many bargaining team members, school board members claim the teacher’s union violated the parties’ mutually agreed upon ground rules for negotiations, which prohibit having more than five individuals on a bargaining team. While the association did not exceed the total number of members at the table at any one time, the total number of team members exceeded the five-member limit.
School board members also claim in its charge the WEA negotiating team further disrupted the bargaining process by repeatedly canceling scheduled bargaining sessions without specific reasons and with little advance notice. Most recently, the WEA unexpectedly canceled a weekend bargaining session that was scheduled weeks in advance after many bargaining team members agreed to cancel their personal plans for that weekend.
The school board has not canceled a bargaining session throughout the nearly eight months of negotiations.
Through their attorney, the Wapakoneta school board stated it was submitting the charge in response to “such bad faith bargaining tactics” which have violated Ohio’s collective bargaining laws which mandate that parties negotiate in good faith.
“It is undisputable that the association’s conduct, taken as a whole, constitutes bad-faith bargaining,” according to the charge filed with SERB. “Ever since the start of negotiations, the association has engaged in improper delay tactics by constantly replacing its bargaining team members and by repeatedly canceling scheduled bargaining sessions. The association’s behavior has certainly frustrated the bargaining process and prevented a successor agreement from being reached.”
Whether a party has violated good faith requirements is determined on a case-by-case basis but the charge claims that violating ones own ground rules for negotiations is well established as bad faith effort.
“The Board of Education is entitled to remediation for such wrongdoing,” the charge said in its filing.
The Wapakoneta school board is asking the WEA be found in violation of Ohio Revised Code, ordered to cease and desist from engaging in bad faith bargaining tactics and ordered to pay the school board’s legal fees associated with processing the unfair labor practice charge.
Neither side is commenting on points of contention in negotiations but more money has been one of the issues. Negotiations also remain ongoing between the school board and classified staff.
The school district has been in a fiscal deficit for three years and has reduced $1.2 million in spending over that time. District administrators and union-exempt employees took a pay freeze this year.