An article in last week's Prince Williams Weekly misstated the membership in the Prince William Federation of Teachers. According to President Herb Levin, there are 200 members. (Published 6/21/90)

Union busting or a more effective way to negotiate teacher salaries?

That is the question some teachers and school officials are asking about a new procedure for negotiating teacher pay and other issues in Prince William County.

Beginning in the school year 1991-92, the administration will hold discussions with representatives of a 27-member Teachers Advisory Committee -- or "Committee of 27" as the group has been dubbed -- instead of convening separate conferences with members of the two organizations that represent most of the county's approximately 3,000 teachers and classroom aides.

Because Virginia is a right-to-work state that prohibits collective bargaining by public employees, school officials heretofore have held separate "meet and confer" {negotiating} sessions with all groups representing teachers. In Prince William, as in Fairfax County, there are two. One, the Prince William Education Association, a National Education Association affiliate, has about 1,700 members, while the Prince William Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, represents fewer than 100 teachers.

The result has been "chaotic," according to School Superintendent Edward L. Kelly.

"You can't reach an agreement with two groups," said Kelly. "Often they want two different things."

Critics of the committee concept, which have included members of the School Board and both teachers organizations, have complained that the new committee, which was agreed to by administrators and leaders of the Prince William Education Association during the "meet and confer" process, is a short-sighted solution to what may be an unwieldy system, but one that has worked fairly well in recent years.

One of the major critics of the proposed new procedure is School Board member Martha Raines (Gainesville), who is a Fairfax County teacher and a member of the Fairfax Education Association.

Raines, who could not be reached for comment this week, has said she is entertaining the possibility of introducing a School Board policy change that would disband the committee before it ever gets off the ground. But she has not yet done so. According to School Board Chairman Maureen Caddigan, a majority of board members have agreed to support Raines, should she want a policy change.

There are two major criticisms of the committee.

The Prince William Federation of Teachers has complained that because the committee will be made up of elected teacher representatives, the Prince William Education Association will control those on it, thereby cutting the federation out of its accustomed means of communicating with the school administration. Some critics further argue that weakening one organization will eventually weaken the other as well.

Some Prince William Education Association members have complained that the new structure will assure that an "in group" of association leadership, by deciding which committee candidates get endorsements, has an iron grip on the group.

The leadership of the Education Association is enthusiastic about the proposal.

"I see it as a group that, because of our numbers, would be in effect PWEA. Our people would be the group," said Jane Heustis, newly elected president of the association.

A Prince William Education Association newsletter touts the Committee of 27 as "an opportunity for PWEA to achieve 'exclusive recognition' in a non-bargaining state."

That is just the rub for Herb Levin, president of the Prince William Federation of Teachers. He has threatened a legal challenge to the committee concept.

According to Levin, because Virginia bars collective bargaining, it is illegal for a governing body to negotiate exclusively with one employee group.

"We have sent all the written material on the committee up to our headquarters in Chicago," said Levin. A determination will be made by national officials on how to proceed in Prince William.

Levin said his organization would continue to lobby against the procedure and appeal to the School Board to rewrite the policy that allowed it to happen.

A few critics, even within the Prince William Education Association, see yet another problem. The committee could function like a third employee organization, thus undermining both the association and the Prince William Federation of Teachers, according to Sherry Frye, past association president. She also complained that the concept was not endorsed by the majority of association members.