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Have You Looked at Your Contracts Lately?

Joel Gerring

By Joel Gerring, MASB Assistant Legal Counsel

DashBoard, Jan. 20, 2016

With bargaining season right around the corner, don’t wait until your first scheduled bargaining session to begin reviewing your teacher contract. As we enter February, now is the time to dust off those agreements and review them for items that are illegal, prohibited or otherwise problematic. Keep an eye out for any language that touches upon evaluations, placement, curriculum standards, hiring, firing, layoff or recall.

Although it’s been nearly four years since the prohibited subject of bargain laws were changed, many teacher contracts still include language that should, by now, have been eliminated. Some union groups continue to insist that this language remain in place for members of the teacher bargaining unit who are not within the Teacher Tenure Act (school counselors, psychologists, etc.). How to accomplish this can vary from district to district, with some agreements simply including a letter of understanding, while others include the prohibited language as an attachment to the CBA with an agreement as to whom the language still applies to. It is not recommended that the language simply remain in the contract with a “disclaimer” sentence indicating that it does not apply to teachers. A conservative interpretation of the law mandates that all such “prohibiteds” must be removed from the agreement in total. Be sure to review attachments and appendices for forms/templates concerning these issues as well.

Are You Ready for Bargaining Season?

If your district has contracts that will expire this summer, now is the time to develop your game plan to ensure successful negotiations in the months to come. Join us at the 2016 Labor Relations Conference, cosponsored by MASB, MASA and MSBO, to get your jump start.

Feb. 26, Radisson Hotel, Lansing
9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Register Here Today!

While undertaking your review, also be sure to pay close attention to clauses that are known to have been problematic in the past and flag them for possible future negotiation. Poorly worded extended leave language, vague sick time guidelines and Family Medical Leave Act language that does not comply with the minimum federal standards continue to be included in numerous teacher agreements. Likewise, clauses that deal with probationary teacher status and continuing tenure should be reviewed to make sure that they comply with the 2012 changes to the Teacher Tenure Act.

Additionally, if (for example) your superintendent has reported that the district’s policy concerning personal time off is being abused, make sure that your bargaining team is aware of this fact well ahead of time so that preferable language can be offered and compromise language can be negotiated in a proper, methodical way. Too often, existing CBA language that has proven to be impractical, obsolete or otherwise just plain bad is not discussed until the very end of the negotiation process, resulting in either a “we’ll address it next time” attitude or a rushed “11th hour” fix that merely solves one problem while creating unforeseen others.

After engaging in weeks or even months of possibly contentious bargaining involving compensation, benefits and working conditions, last-minute requests to modify other parts of the contract are sometimes met with exasperation or even suspicion and can run the risk of undoing a lot of hard work; which is why bad language often simply remains in a contract year after year. By contrast, bringing up potential language changes early in the process allows time for constructive dialogue and can provide a reason to maintain communication even when wage and benefit talks stall.

Finally, as always, the MASB Labor Relations Team stands ready to assist your district with a range of contract review service options, should you require them. Feel free to contact us at laborrrelations@masb.org or 517.327.5900.

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