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Tentative Agreement Reached

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 MEA and management’s bargaining teams reached a tentative agreement on salary, benefits and working conditions for teachers and paraprofessionals for the ’09-’10 contract year. The tentative agreement was signed after six day-long sessions working with a Federal Mediator.
The agreement for teachers and paras includes:
o     step movement on the salary schedule as required by the contract,
o     restoration of salary (1%) for those at the top of the salary schedules,
o     no change in cost or benefits in health insurance,
o     changes to the language governing pay dates.
There is also a change to language in the teachers’ contract that involves voluntary transfers, the addition of a teacher planning day on the Modified Instructional Week schedule as well as the addition of an annual contract (AC) lane for people whose start date is after July 1st, 2009.
According to MEA President Pat Barber, “We chose to use a collaborative process in an effort to work together on behalf of teachers and paras during these very difficult financial times. Both parties entered bargaining with a desire to repair the relationship between MEA and the district.”
“The collaborative nature of our bargaining this year has led to an agreement that not only is of benefit to everyone involved but is instrumental in establishing strong working relationships that will continue to reap dividends for years to come,” said Assistant Superintendent Herb Tschappat.

Manatee Education Association to Push for Clarification of ‘Financial Urgency’

March 4, 2009 - Earlier this week, the Florida Public Employees Relations Commission ruled against MEA in its unfair labor practice charge against the Manatee School District. The decision means that, for now, the 1% pay cut that the district imposed on school district employees in August will remain in place. 
“I am both disappointed and frustrated with PERC’s decision,” said Pat Barber, President of MEA. “We are still in the same position in which we started. We lack a definition and a procedure for declaring financial urgency under Section 447.4095.”
MEA’s argument was that the school district must demonstrate true financial urgency prior to invoking the expedited negotiations and impasse procedures under Florida Statute 447.4095. 
Unfortunately, that statute does not define the phrase “financial urgency” and both parties had hoped for a clearer interpretation of the statute. Regrettably, the PERC decision provides no guidance as to when and what type of financial urgency requires modification of an existing agreement. According to PERC, the mere invocation of the statute requires the union to participate in the process or be subject to an unfair labor practice for refusing to bargain. 
PERC commissioners declined to apply the standards set forth in Chiles v. UFF, to the case. That decision by the Florida Supreme Court says that a compelling state interest must be proven prior to modification of a contract. Under Chiles, contracts may not be impaired unless there are no other possible funding sources to address financial urgency.
“When coupled with the statutes that protect the contractual obligations to private vendors, the PERC decision seems to say to school districts and other public employers, ‘Cut employees first,’ ” Barber said.
In his dissent, departing Commissioner Charlie Kossuth said he believed that the school district violated the law by “improvidently and prematurely declaring a financial urgency and using this to abrogate a binding contractual obligation”. He urges the application of Chiles by requiring proof that no other funding was available.
The Manatee Education Association and its state affiliate will appeal the decision in light of its broad implications to all public sector unions.

Recommended Order Issued - PERC Yet to Rule

Bradenton, FL- On December 3, 2008, Hearing Officer Jack Ruby issued a recommended order in the Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) filed by the Manatee Education Association (MEA) against the Manatee County School Board. The subject of the ULP was an allegation that the School Board improperly invoked financial urgency in an effort to expedite bargaining and criticized MEA’s action in negotiations.

Ruby’s recommendation is denial of MEA’s charges. The recommendation will now go to the Public Employee Relations Commission.
Although disappointed in the hearing officer’s recommendation, the process is a long way from completion. MEA fully intends to file exceptions to the hearing officer’s recommended order.
Tom Brooks, attorney for MEA, believes that Ruby failed to address the fundamental legal issues regarding the interpretation of the financial urgency statute raised in the complaint. Ruby essentially said MEA should have been willing to sit down and discuss the issues. Of course MEA was willing and all correspondence show MEA never refused to do so.
MEA and Brooks remain confident that MEA will ultimately prevail as the facts and the law are on our side.

Additional ULP Charges Filed

Click on the following links to read the ULP charges MEA filed regarding Health Insurance and the Office of Professional Standards (OPS)

Because of the large file sizes, it may take a few moments for them to download.

School Board Votes to Unilaterally Change Employees' Health Insurance Benefits

As predicted, the School Board of Manatee County voted on Wednesday, September 24, 2008 to unilaterally change the district's health insurance plan. Click here to view the benefits associated with this unilaterally adopted plan. The MEA is taking the appropriate steps to challenge the board's action.

PERC Sets Hearing Date in ULP Charge

PERC (Public Employees Relations Commission) has scheduled Friday, October 3, 2008 as the date to hear arguments in the Unfair Labor Practice charge MEA filed against the School Board of Manatee County. Click here to read PERC's Notice of Hearing.

PERC Agrees To Hear Unfair Labor Charge

Click here to read Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC)’s Notice of Sufficiency.

MEA Alleges Board Action Bad Faith

On August 7, 2008, the Manatee Education Association (MEA) filed an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) against the School Board of Manatee County and Superintendent Roger Dearing.

 The charges contained in the ULP are violations of 447.501(1)(a) and (c) :~ interfering with and undermining the relationship between the MEA and the employees it represents, failure to bargain in good faith by erroneously invoking 447.4095, by refusing to abandon that statute after both sides agreed to use the contractual process, by using the "financial urgency" process to pressure MEA to accede to the School Board's position, by rejecting favorable Special Magistrate recommendations just to create the opportunity for imposing its position, by refusing to postpone legislative body action to let the Interest-Based Bargaining process continue, and by failing to provide MEA evidence of the claimed "financial urgency" as requested.
“It is now up to the Public Employee Relations Commission (PERC) to determine whether or not the Superintendent and School Board acted in good faith,” said MEA President Pat Barber, “It is unfortunate that it has come to this. Bargaining could have been completed in a timely manner had the Superintendent agreed to bargain under the language contained in the current contract rather than declaring financial urgency.”

MEA Urges Board to Forego Imposition

MEA sent the following letter to School Board members on Monday, August 4, 2008:

The MEA and management bargaining teams have met in Interest-Based Bargaining (IBB) for seven full days. Although there have been no formal agreements on salary and benefits, the teams have made progress towards reaching a resolution.

All of us involved in bargaining believe that continuing IBB is the best opportunity to reach an agreement that will benefit the employees as well as the district. MEA also believes that our time and money, as well as the district’s, are better spent in bargaining than in a costly legal battle.

While we maintain our position that the School Board is without authority to act at this time, we are requesting that the School Board forego imposition and allow the teams to complete their work.
Patricia L. Barber
Cc: Herb Tschappat, Assistant Superintendent

Manatee Education Association ‘cautiously optimistic’ as Legitimate Bargaining Process Begins

Bradenton-On July 21, 2008, the representatives of the Manatee Education Association (MEA) will meet with representatives of the Manatee County School Board to begin customary bargaining salary, benefits and working conditions.
For months MEA has been corresponding with the Superintendent Roger Dearing in an attempt to set bargaining dates under the normal reopeners contained in the teachers’ and paraprofessionals’ contracts. Those talks are now scheduled for the week of July 21-July 25 as well as July 30 and August 1 if needed.
“MEA’s bargaining team will come to the table prepared to bargain openly and fairly,” said MEA President Pat Barber, “despite the distractions caused by Superintendent Dearing’s attempts to force an agreement using what he calls ‘parallel tracks.’”
Since 2004, MEA and the district’s administration have used a process called Interest Based Bargaining (IBB). IBB is a problem solving method traditionally facilitated by a Federal Mediator that requires parties to pose questions and openly share information as they address issues identified by both parties. Its success is based on the commitment of both parties to full disclosure and a good faith effort to work toward a mutually acceptable resolution.
In recent weeks, talks between the district and the union have been sidetracked by a series of time consuming and expensive legal battles resulting from the Superintendent’s premature declaration of a rarely used provision in the state statute called “financial urgency.” The latest bizarre twist came Thursday when the Superintendent rejected the ruling—which he requested—of a Special Magistrate even though the ruling was in the district’s favor.
“Fortunately, Assistant Superintendent Herb Tschappat has worked with MEA to coordinate bargaining sessions with the Federal Mediator,” according to MEA President Pat Barber, “and we look forward to getting down to the business of negotiating… while Superintendent Dearing continues down his “parallel’ track.”