As we’ve already shared on our SDEA Contract FAQ page, under California’s education labor law (the EERA) SDEA leadership can open the contract without member consent. There is no requirement for member pre-approval. In fact, the requirement for ratification stems from SDEA bylaws only, not EERA. However, SDEA leadership is less likely to do so if members unite and speak out against it. That is why it’s important that we as members make sure our elected union leadership knows what we want.
Unfortunately, the contract can actually be opened by SDEA’s leadership without their even meaning to. Here’s how…
There’s been some internal debate within our union recently over whether or not we should have “open lines of communication” with the District. Of course there’s nothing wrong with “open lines of communication” or “collaboration” between groups of people in most contexts. In fact, in most aspects of our lives, those are the sorts of relationships we strive for and encourage. But when that “open collaboration” is occurring between the top brass of an employer and a union, and when the topics of those discussions relate to mandatory subjects of bargaining (like contract concessions), the employer has a defensible argument that the union has entered into negotiations, and therefore opened the contract!
This was actually made clear to the SDEA Board at a recent presentation by CTA staff. One of CTA’s negotiations specialists told the Board that a simple statement of “no layoffs, no concessions, and here’s why” wouldn’t necessarily open the contract. However, he also said that if SDEA leadership was not very careful about what sorts of conversations they have with the District, they could inadvertently open our contract. For example, let’s say an SDEA officer were to tell a School Board member that we might be open to a sideletter about just furlough days. The District would have an argument that we’ve opened our entire wage article. They could then take us to impasse and impose their “last, best final offer” and there’s nothing we can do about it except slog it through the increasingly slow and defunded state labor board to contest it down the road. Now more than ever, when the District is putting more pressure on us than they ever have to reopen our contract, we need to be careful, not sloppy, in how our union leadership interacts with District leadership. And why are we holding an olive branch out to the District right now anyway when they’re being more aggressive toward us than ever?
But disturbingly, these sorts of conversations may have already begun between SDEA’s leadership and SDUSD’s leadership. At least one unpublicized meeting has already taken place between SDEA Interim Executive Director Tom Madden, SDEA President Bill Freeman, SDEA Vice President-Elect Lindsay Burningham and several other SDEA Board members, and the District’s Superintendent, School Board members, and other District officials. This was the first in a series of proposed meetings that the SDEA Board wants to hold to initiate those “open lines of communication” between SDEA and the District. What was discussed in that meeting? Will there be more such meetings? We (union members) don’t know the answers to those questions, or even that we should be asking them, and that’s a problem.
That secret meeting never should have happened and never should have been secret. We negotiate at bargaining tables when our contract is open, not in back rooms when our contract is closed.