Bargaining Update – August 17, 2015

For now, it’s “good enough” work

WEA Executive Director Armand Tiberio has been telling us throughout our negotiations that the WEASO contract is good enough. Our pay is good enough. WEA’s workforce is good enough. WEA doesn’t need to do anything more. Our contract already is good enough.

We’ll take Armand at his word. So beginning tomorrow, every WEASO member should know his or her contract is good enough. Nothing more is needed.

That means don’t start work before 8 a.m., and make sure you leave by 4. That’s what the contract says, and that’s good enough. Don’t work through your lunch: it’s not needed. Level 5s have an option to work alternate shifts, but it’s just an option and not required, so Level 5s should work 8 to 4 also, because that’s good enough.

How long will our contract be just “good enough?”

That’s up to WEA management and governance leaders who broke off negotiations Monday and said it would seek a mediator after WEASO suggested that, before laying off staff in the event of a financial crisis, WEA commit to eliminating non-essential contractors and consultants, non-permanent employees, out-of-state travel, reduce other statewide meetings, and look for other organizational efficiencies.

If management insists on trying to force an extension of the “good enough” contract for another year, then WEASO should be prepared to offer “good enough” work for the same period.

Any contract is an expression of priorities. Our bargaining team has tried to negotiate the issues WEASO members identified as priorities: appropriate workload, not moving backward on compensation or benefits, and maintaining the union values we are fighting for our WEA members. Management can settle this tomorrow, without using mediation to stall and delay. Short of that, we can adjust our workload and our work-life balance by doing work that’s good enough … just like our contract.

The hypocrisy of WEA management was highlighted in a letter Monday by field staff in a heads-up to their local leaders about the change in work hours.

WEA staff are in a labor dispute with our employer, your union, WEA. The WEASO Staff and WEA Management bargaining teams have met numerous times and, in the fashion of the worst school administrators, WEA has simply refused to negotiate on the majority of the issues brought by our staff union. The irony is quite disturbing and … many of the Staff proposals would actually make WEA more efficient and effective …

“We realize that this is going to impact the many bargains still in progress and be extremely inconvenient for issues that arise as our members return to school. Just as all of you have a hard time with actions that impact your students, I assure you that we are very stressed and upset at the prospect of limiting our ability to support you and our members. However, the WEA Board and Management can’t have one set of “union values” for our educators and then engage in anti-union tactics with their own employees. Union values are not just words, are not situational and apply to all unions and workers. As your staff, we have to lead by example and stand up to an unreasonable employer if we are to have any credibility when we encourage you to do so.”

In their letter, the staff gave notice that work hours will now be curtailed to those required under the contract, and that staff would no longer be available on evenings or weekends.

Is this a tough stand to take when we have locals and members we’ve worked with and care about? Yes.

Is management willing to hear our concerns when it’s only our bargaining team reminding them their hypocrisy is anti-union (and a contract that refuses to address the economic interests of two-thirds of our membership is not ratifiable?) Apparently not.

Will we impact WEA’s operations if we are no longer willing to give up evenings and weekends for an employer who believes an 8-to-4:30 contract is “good enough?” Of course.

Which is why we are taking this action, and why we know our success is in our unity. We need to challenge WEA’s assumptions that staff here aren’t important. We need to help management understand it is not in their self-interest to hear WEASO’s concerns if our members continue to volunteer our time, patch over WEA’s deliberate shortcomings in staffing, and continue to balance all of our day to day tasks with the latest emergency du jour, whether signature gathering for an initiative, phone banking for a candidate or working on crisis teams for a high-stakes bargain.

Is it uncomfortable for us to now be in the same position we guide our WEA members toward in their school contract negotiations? Of course. But the alternative is to do nothing, and to condone our management’s anti-union behaviors.

The question for WEASO members is the same question we ask our classroom members: Are you willing to stand up, or are you OK with being bowled over? Management is betting, wrongly, that they know what you’ll choose.