Amid the fireworks and various reports, September’s SDEA Rep. Council meeting included a report from SDEA Executive Director Tim Hill about the five “Unfair Labor Practice” charges (ULPs) SDUSD has committed against our union in recent months. A flashy flyer about the ULPs was also included in packets, but few may realize how significant this issue really is—and what five ULPs during “peace time” mean for a union. So let’s get into it…
First, what is a ULP? An Unfair Labor Practice charge can be filed by the union, the employer, or a union member alleging a violation of labor laws (in our case the EERA, or Educational Employment Relations Act, which spells out the labor laws for educational employees in California). A ULP is filed when one party breaks the law, often by refusing to abide by the union contract, refusing to negotiate in good faith, or otherwise failing to live up to their legal responsibilities. The current ULPs include: the District’s refusal to adhere to fairly negotiated class size caps in secondary schools, disregard for staffing ratios for nurses and counselors, violating contract language regarding lesson plans, unilaterally deciding to charge new teachers for BTSA, and perhaps most horrifying, unilaterally deciding to charge retirees “fees” (cleverly not called “premiums”) for their bargained healthcare.
Now, unions pretty frequently file ULPs during contract negotiations, not only because employers tend to behave badly during bargaining, but also because ULPs are part of a critical line of defense. Under the law, if the union and employer reach “impasse” (meaning that further negotiations are futile), the employer can go through a process to unilaterally impose contract conditions on union members. (This is why SDEA President Bill Freeman’s recent admission that the District could have taken us to impasse during concessions bargaining last June is so worrisome, and why so many of us were so concerned about that issue at the time.) If there are unresolved ULPs on file related to negotiations, the employer is legally prevented from imposing a contract.
During negotiations for the 2010 SDEA contract, for example, SDEA negotiator Craig Leedham tracked several issues and worked with CTA attorneys to file ULPs against SDUSD. Those charges were critical as negotiations dragged on for nearly two years, with SDUSD leadership repeatedly threatening impasse. In the end, the ULPs were a critical part of our strategy to reach a strong settlement.
But ULPs are relatively rare during peacetime… In fact, even during the tenure of former Superintendents Alan Bersin and Terry Grier, SDEA never had as many as five ULPs at one time—during bargaining OR between contracts.
Which brings us to the five ULPS of 2012… With all the talk of “open lines of communication” and “collaboration” between Bill Freeman and SDUSD leaders, why is our union experiencing so many ULPs at the hands of the District? What gives? At the risk of stating the obvious, we teachers know to look beyond their talk to measurable objectives… ULPs, turnout at union actions, strength of contracts—all of these are measurable ways of gauging our union’s strength and the effectiveness of our relationship with the District. So with five ULPs, SDUSD is demonstrating that they care little about what our contract says or our rights under the law. After all the work and all the organizing we did to win these important gains, SDUSD is basically thumbing their nose at us and at our contract (and at our students who need smaller class sizes, nurses and counselors while they’re at it!).
These ULPs will eventually be resolved in one way or another—probably between some attorneys at a government office in LA. But what union members need to be concerned about, and what should be a call to action, is the fact that by every measurable objective our union’s relationship with SDUSD is totally ineffective. It may feel good to talk of collaboration and to see all that chumminess between Bill Freeman and Bill Kowba. But at the end of the day, the thing that really matters to the SDEA member in the classroom, on the field, or in the office, is whether or not that relationship is effective in defending our rights and our students. These five ULPs, coupled with abysmal turnout at recent union actions and our new contract (one of the worst settlements in the state), tell a dismal tale of where we are and where we’re going—that is, unless we all get involved and decide to do something about it.
— by Camille Zombro (Chavez Elementary)