MORRISDALE – Calling it a “demoralizing and disrespectful,” situation for the district’s support staff workers, union leaders of the West Branch Education Support Professional Association (WBESPA) today filed unfair labor practice charges against the West Branch School Board for failing to vote on a tentative contract agreement, which was approved by both the union’s and the school board’s bargaining teams in December 2008.
“We are extremely frustrated and dispirited by the board’s lack of action on this agreement. When the school board’s negotiations team gave their approval to the tentative agreement in December, they had an obligation to take it back to the full board for a vote,” said WBESPA Vice President Ron Natalie. “We bargained in good faith for a year and as we promised, we took the tentative agreement back to our members for a vote. The school board’s attitude towards the support staff workers is disdainful. We are shocked that they would not live up to their word.”
The Unfair Labor Practice charge will be adjudicated by the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. The charge claims that the school board violated the state’s bargaining law, Act 195, by failing to bargain in good faith.
The WBESPA and members of the West Branch School Board’s bargaining teams began bargaining on a successor contract in January 2008. The WBESPA’s contract expired in July 2008, and as a show of good faith, union workers agreed to continue working under the terms of the expired contract.
On Dec. 17, 2008, both the school board and union bargaining teams, with the support of a state mediator reached a tentative agreement. The school board’s bargaining included Don Murray, Joseph Kovalcin, Gerald Coble, and Larry Allen. Board members Tom Veres and Mary Ann Coudreit also participated in bargaining when the tentative agreement was reached. On Jan. 25, members of the WESPA voted to approve the tentative contract.
At the Jan. 26 school board meeting action on the tentative agreement was deferred; at the Feb. 23 school board meeting a motion was made by Coble to accept the tentative agreement, but died for lack of a second.
“We have been very patient and professional. Our team has bargained in good faith for more than a year. We believe the tentative agreement represents a fair compromise for both sides, so we are very distressed by the school board’s reaction to the situation,” Natalie said. “The WBESBA believes that creating and maintaining a collaborative and respectful relationship between the staff and the school board is important so we can maintain a positive work environment in our community schools. We have done everything we can to foster this type of relationship, but now it is up to the school board to meet us halfway. No one wants this situation to create an unpleasant atmosphere in our public schools. The school board needs to be held accountable for their actions.”
The WBESPA represents the district’s approximately 50 support staff, including secretaries, classrooms aides, personal care aides, hall monitors, cafeteria workers and maintenance and custodial workers. In 2008, the district’s aides voted to join the WBESPA, which is an affiliate of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest union.
The district’s 92 teachers are members of the West Branch Education Association, which started negotiations with the school board in January 2009. The WBEA’s contract expires this summer.