Labor Management Collaboration in Maine

You may know that a U.S. Department of Education Conference on Labor Management Collaboration is happening today in Denver.

Three Maine school systems (Regional School Unit 12, SAD 74 and SAD 61) and the local Associations there are attending. What involvement the Maine Education Association, of which the three locals are affiliates, has in the Conference is unknown (at least by me).

According to the Conference’s Opening Message, this is what the participants can expect from the initiative:

…to take a fresh look at how we improve and strengthen labor-management relationships, policies, and agreements with the goal of improving instruction and student achievement, and how we hold ourselves and each other responsible and accountable for achieving these goals. You have agreed to revisit both what underlies a successful labor-management relationship and the myriad of issues that affect it, including:

  • transparency [not sure what this means in this context]
  • hiring [in Maine, local Associations are not involved in hiring decisions]
  • retention [in Maine, local Associations can negotiate Reduction in Force and dismissal processes, but not the decision to retain or dismiss a teacher]
  • equity [not sure what this means in this context]
  • compensation [In Maine, local Associations can negotiate salaries; whether or not they can negotiate tying those salaries to student performance is unclear.]
  • instruction [in Maine, this is “educational policy” and generally can not be negotiated or enforced through the grievance process]
  • [content of] professional development [in Maine, this is “educational policy” and generally can not be negotiated or enforced through the grievance process], and
  • [teacher] evaluation [in Maine, this is “educational policy” and generally can not be negotiated or enforced through the grievance process]

Although I expect the U.S. DoE and other sponsoring organizations believe that they are doing the right thing nationally, Maine law is not supportive of the initiative at this time.

The legal relationship between Maine school boards and local Associations is spelled out by 26 MRSA 965(C)(1).   Any “labor-management relationship” that exists is therefore guided by that statute and the cases that have been decided under it. The relationship is such that – good intentions aside – if a subject has not been negotiated (and in writing as part a collective bargaining agreement except for some matters of past practice), there is little to bind the parties to the agreement.

Since, most of the topics listed above are not bargainable under Maine case law, the school board has the power and authority to renege on any agreement reached in (or based on the experience of) Denver.  Should an affected Association believe the agreement was violated, they could bring a grievance, but it is likely that the school board’s lawyer would successfully argue that the matter is not arbitrable because it is “educational policy”.

“SAD 74 Superintendent Ken Coville said he hopes to learn about the specifics of tying measures of academic progress to teacher compensation, especially as part of a collective bargaining agreement.”

And

“Lester Sheaffer, vice chairman of the RSU 12 board, said he’s hoping for tips on working academic performance-based bonuses and raises into contract negotiations.”

Clearly the gentlemen making the two statements above are looking to the conference for very specific information which they intend to include in a new collective bargaining agreement.  What the individuals holding those positions in 5 or 10 years, assuming no change in the law, will be thinking is unknown.  And what the Conference participants from Maine will hear from their attorneys when they return from Denver is yet another matter.

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Filed under Collective Bargaining, Education in Maine, MEA

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