The Municipal Public Employees Labor Relations Law (MPLERL), passed in 1969 by the Maine Legislature, permitted teachers (and other employees in Maine schools) to bargain with their employers.
The statutory language is found in 26 MRSA §965: Obligation to bargain
1. Negotiations. It is the obligation of the public employer and the bargaining agent to bargain collectively. “Collective bargaining” means, for the purposes of this chapter, their mutual obligation:
A. To meet at reasonable times;
B. To meet within 10 days after receipt of written notice from the other party requesting a meeting for collective bargaining purposes, as long as the parties have not otherwise agreed in a prior written contract. This obligation is suspended during the period between a referendum approving a new regional school unit and the operational date of the regional school unit, as long as the parties meet at reasonable times during that period;
C. To confer and negotiate in good faith with respect to wages, hours, working conditions and contract grievance arbitration, except that by such obligation neither party may be compelled to agree to a proposal or be required to make a concession and except that public employers of teachers shall meet and consult but not negotiate with respect to educational policies; for the purpose of this paragraph, educational policies may not include wages, hours, working conditions or contract grievance arbitration; (emphasis added)
D. To execute in writing any agreements arrived at, the term of any such agreement to be subject to negotiation but may not exceed 3 years; and
E. To participate in good faith in the mediation, fact-finding and arbitration procedures required by this section.
Clearly, there’s a lot here, but the really important piece for Maine teachers as educational reform moves forward, both nationally and in the state is found in subsection (C): “…except that public employers of teachers shall meet and consult but not negotiate with respect to educational policies…”
Who are public employers of teachers? 26 MRSA 962(7) defines public employer as:
A. Any officer, board, commission, council, committee or other persons or body acting on behalf of:
(1) Any municipality or any subdivision of a municipality (note: such as a town school department);
(2) Any school, water, sewer, fire or other district;
(3) The Maine Turnpike Authority;
(there is no 4)
(5) Any county or subdivision of a county;
(6) The Maine Public Employees Retirement System; or
(7) The Maine Educational Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf;
Is there a definition of “teacher” elsewhere in Maine law?
42. Teacher. “Teacher” means:
A. Any employee of a public school who fills any position that the Department of Education requires be filled by a person who holds the appropriate certification or license required for that position and:
(1) Holds appropriate certification from the Department of Education, including an employee whose duties include, in addition to those for which certification is required, either the setup, maintenance or upgrading of a school computer system the use of which is to assist in the introduction of new learning to students or providing school faculty orientation and training related to use of the computer system for educational purposes; or
(2) Holds an appropriate license issued to a professional employee by a licensing agency of the State;
B. Any employee of a public school who fills any position not included in paragraph A, the principal function of which is to introduce new learning to students, except that a coach who is employed by a public school and who is not otherwise covered by the definition of teacher as defined in this subsection or an employee who is employed in adult education as defined in Title 20-A, section 8601-A, subsection 1 and who is not otherwise covered by the definition of teacher defined in this subsection may not be considered a teacher for purposes of this Part;
C. Any employee of a public school on June 30, 1989, in a position not included in paragraph A or B which was included in the definition of teacher in effect on June 30, 1989, as long as:
(1) The employee does not terminate employment; or
(2) The employee terminates employment and returns to employment in a position in the same classification within 2 years of the date of termination. Regardless of any subsequent employment history, any employee of a public school in a position which was included in the definition of teacher in effect on June 30, 1989, is entitled to creditable service as a teacher for all service in that position on or before that date;
D. Any employee of a public school in a position not included in paragraph A, B or C who was a member of the State Employee and Teacher Retirement Program of the retirement system as a teacher on August 1, 1988, as long as:
(1) The employee does not terminate employment; or
(2) The employee terminates employment and returns to employment in a position in the same classification within 2 years of the date of termination;
E. Any former employee of a public school in a position not included in paragraph A, B or C who was a member of the State Employee and Teacher Retirement Program of the retirement system as a teacher before August 1, 1988, as long as the former employee returns to employment in a position in the same classification before July 1, 1991; or
F. For service before July 1, 1989, any employee of a public school in a position which was included in the definition of teacher before July 1, 1989.
“Teacher” includes a person who is on a one-year leave of absence from a position as a teacher and is participating in the education of prospective teachers by teaching and supervising students enrolled in college-level teacher preparation programs in this State.
“Teacher” also includes a person who is on a leave of absence from a position as a teacher and is duly elected as President of the Maine Education Association.
“Teacher” also includes a person who, subsequent to July 1, 1981, has served as president of a recognized or certified bargaining agent representing teachers for which released time from teaching duties for performance of the functions of president has been negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement between the collective bargaining agent and the teacher’s school administrative unit and for whom contributions related to the portion of the person’s salary attributable to the released time have been paid as part of the regular payroll of the school administrative unit.
In other words, lots of people working in Maine schools can be considered “teachers”, but the most important attributes are that a teacher is certified/licensed by the state AND introduces new learning to students.
So, what will those two parties (the public employer and the public employee bargaining agent on behalf of teachers) confer and negotiate about when they meet? Well, they must negotiate wages, hours, working conditions and contract grievance arbitration. They may not negotiate about “educational policies”, but they may “meet and consult” about those.
Clearly, the core questions, then, are:
- What constitutes “educational policies” for the purposes of this law?
- Why are they treated differently from “wages, hours, working conditions and contract grievance arbitration”?
- What does it mean to “negotiate”?
- How does negotiate differ from “meet and consult”?
Next time: The core questions