The Arlington County School Board last week adopted a new employer-employee management policy that prevents the board from entering into binding contracts with any employee union, but provides a procedure for negotiations between the board and employees.
The policy, which takes effect July 1, was formed in response to a Virginia Supreme Court decision Jan. 14 that struck down collective bargaining between public employees and their employer.
"This policy is nothing like as potent a tool we operated under before the Supreme Court decision," said Marjorie P. Sale, executive director of the Arlington Education Association. "But among the alternative drafts we have seen before, it is the most useful and satisfactory."
School Supt. Larry Cuban recommended the policy, saying, "I have been advised . . . that this draft complies with the decision of the Virginia Supreme Court . . . and I feel it meets the spirit and intent" of Gov. Mills F. Godwin's policy statement in February that said employers should provide employees with a way to discuss wages, hours and working conditions.
The new policy differs from the Arlington School Board's former policy in three major respects: the nature of agreements between the board and employees, the representation of employees before the board and the procedure for continuing negotiations in the event of an impasse between the board and employees. The new policy prohibits employee strikes, as did the old one.
Before the Supreme Court decision the board entered into binding contracts with employees governing wages, hours and conditions. Most of the contracts covered a two-year period. Now, no union contracts can be formed. Terms that the board and employees agree to will be incorporated instead into school board directives that the board may change at any time after two weeks notice to employees.
"Naturally this is our major reservation about the policy," Sale said. "When joint recommendations are adopted by the board they have no life. Since they can be changed anytime, it leaves employees without any assurances that they will be held to as ground rules."
She said that although the school board cannot form contracts with unions, she believes that the board could make binding agreements with teachers by stipulating terms in their individuals contracts. School board chairman Diane Henderson, however, said board counsel had advised against setting out binding agrements in individual contracts.
Under the old policy the school board negotiatied with appointed representatives of employee organizations. The Supreme Court determined this to be exclusive bargaining, according to Edward Oliver, director of employee relations for Arlington schools. Under the new policy a meet-and-confer committee will be set up for discussing employee concerns. The committee will consist of five Arlington school staff members to represent management and up to five employees elected by secret ballot by five employees.
The old policy also specified that third party mediators could be brought into management-employee negotiations when an impasse was reached. The new policy neither provides nor prohibits a third party from entering negotiations, Sale said.
"It's my understanding that if both sides agreed to having a third party enter into our discussions, then one could be called in," Sale said.
Asked what would happen if the employee group requested a mediator when school board representatives thought one was not needed, Sale replied: "then we're out to lunch."
"But I have confidence the board is interested in meaningful employee relationships or it would not pursue this policy as thoughtfully as it has," Sale continued. "We are operating basically on good faith when it comes to implementing this policy."
There are four employee unions in the Arlington County School system. The Arlington Education Association's membership includes about 95 per cent of all Arlington teachers. The AFL-CIO affiliated American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees includes maintenance personnel, cafeteria workers and other support staff. The American Federated of School Administrators, also affiliated with the AFL-CIO, includes principals and other supervisory personnel in its ranks. The Office and Professional Employees Union includes secretaries, typists and other clerical personnel.
Each employee group, and other non-union employees in each of the categories, will elect its own representative to negotiate with management in the joint meet-and-confer commitees.