NILES – The Niles Education Association has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the Niles Board of Education, alleging actions by the board that have resulted in an agreement yet to be reached between the parties, who have less a week to agree on a new union contract before 151 employees go on strike.
The complaint reads, “Despite the efforts of (NEA), the Board has actively engaged in a pattern of bad faith bargaining. By engaging in public negotiations and direct transactions,” the board failed to collectively bargain with the NEA on mandatory bargaining matters in violation of Ohio’s revised code.
The negotiating teams of the two parties met for the first time on March 1. After four meetings, they reached a tentative agreement, which was to be voted on and adopted by the NEA members, then voted and adopted by the full school board. This agreement was not adopted by NEA members by a narrow margin, according to the complaint. The NEA negotiating team then asked for a break in the negotiations so that they could sound out all NEA members on what they wanted changed in the agreement.
On July 14, a second agreement in principle was adopted. The complaint notes that the only change was to the emergency leave section, which the NEA bargaining team found many NEA members had a problem with. This second deal was also not voted on by NEA members, but this time by a wide margin. The complaint indicates that the bargaining team was surprised.
The complaint alleges that between the first and second unadopted agreements, board members met with individual NEA members, which is contrary to the negotiating rules agreed to by both parties. In some of these conversations, board members allegedly told NEA members that there was more money to give them, but that their bargaining team had not asked for it.
The NEA Bargaining Team, which never authorized the Board Bargaining Team to engage in direct dealings with NEA members, was only informed after the non-passage of the second chord. The complaint states that these conversations initiated by board members undermined the negotiation process and are the reason why the second agreement was not adopted by NEA members and why an agreement still has not not been concluded.
The complaint reads, “Which member of the bargaining unit would vote for (a tentative agreement) when the members on the other side of the bargaining table claimed that there was more money to give? »
In the August 1 negotiation, the first with a federal mediator, the NEA negotiating team asked for more money in its proposal because it now believed the board had more money to give than it had. been previously announced, but did not know how many. The complaint noted that the board’s negotiating team did not submit a counter-offer and said it needed more time to consider NEA’s offer.
A negotiation meeting was scheduled for August 4, but was cancelled. The NEA said it was ready to meet at any time and negotiations were called off by the board. A statement from Board Chairman Tony Perrone on August 17 said: “We have always been willing to meet with union representatives and the federal mediator at any time. We have never refused to negotiate, nor unilaterally canceled a scheduled meeting. »
Negotiations are scheduled from 9 a.m. to noon today.
Niles Superintendent Ann Marie Thigpen said by email Thursday evening: “It’s a shame the union filed a ULP, but that doesn’t change our desire to sit down with them and negotiate a fair contract. We maintain our previous statement.
That earlier statement, which was released after the NEA voted to issue a strike notice, was as follows:
“The Niles Board of Education is working hard and negotiating in good faith with the Niles Education Association to reach a contractual agreement. We have two upcoming mediation sessions scheduled which we hope will lead to a mutual agreement before the current contract expires on August 31. Our number one priority remains our students – and we firmly believe that we share this priority with our dedicated teachers. While we are disappointed that the NEA has decided to issue a notice of intent to strike on September 1, this only intensifies our commitment to continue to bargain in good faith to achieve a fair and equitable contract settlement for all the parts.
In addition to claims that board members had direct dealings with NEA members, the complaint filed with the State Employee Relations Commission highlights two other work practices that the NEA considers as unjust.
The first is that the board ordered an administrator to engage in direct negotiation when a member of the negotiating team asked the athletic director to ask the coaches if they planned to continue coaching if they went on strike and to report by August 17.
The complaint also claims that the council negotiated in public when Perrone said in his August 17 statement: “Twice we reached tentative agreements with the union’s bargaining team. These tentative agreements provided base salary increases each year for the next three years, in addition to numerous teacher step increases that average 3% or more per year. Our teachers rejected these deals even though the base salary increases were above the state average for each year and represented the largest proposed salary increase for our teachers in more than a decade.
NEA members surveyed the town of Niles on Thursday and provided a brochure with a QR code to the complaint to community members.
Perrone did not respond to a request for comment.