Tuesday, September 16, 2008

TOP STORY > >After vote, union still has a shot at survival

Leader senior staff writer

The new Pulaski County Special School District Board member elected yesterday could prove to be the swing vote in reinstating the negotiating authority of the Pulaski Association of Support Staff.

Monday night, the board rejected PASS’s counter-contract offer, then a minute later withdrew recognition of the union as bargaining agent for the support staff by a 4-to-2 vote with Mildred Tatum abstaining.

Superintendent James Sharpe prepared the recommendation to “withdraw recognition of PASS as authorized by the action of the board on July 10, 2007.”

But Tim Clark, who ran unopposed for the position held by Pam Roberts, said Tuesday he wants to make sure that both sides negotiated in good faith. Clark represents Maumelle, Oak Grove and Crystal Hill, among other areas. If he can be won over by board members in favor of PASS, then the board could reinstate the union as the negotiating agent for the support staff if it revisits the issue.

Incumbent Gwen Williams, generally a union supporter, turned back a challenge by Reedie Ray, a Jacksonville alderman who has been crossways with the school unions in the past, so Clark is the only wildcard in this seven-card hand.

“You’ve got two totally different issues,” Clark said of the contract and the union recognition.

“My take on the contract, I want to make sure negotiations were made all in good faith. I want to look at timelines. How long did the district hold on to the contract before making a final offer?”

He said it would have been unfair to sit on the offer for months, then give PASS two or three days to make a counter proposal.
That’s exactly what happened, PASS advisor Sandra Roy said last week.

“If that did happen, that’s not in good faith,” said Clark. “But you don’t decertify a union to avoid negotiating a contract.”

PASS president Emry Chester-field said he expected the matter to come before the board again in October. Meanwhile, PASS isn’t going away, he said.

At several previous meetings when the board was to consider defrocking PASS, the boardroom was packed with several members who spoke. But only a handful of PASS members attended the special meeting Monday, and none spoke.

PACT—the Pulaski Association of Classroom Teachers—is still the bargaining agent for the district’s teachers. There is still a year left on the teachers’ three-year contract, but the board’s action Monday night served notice—and not for the first time—that it was willing to take a hard line with the unions in the name of cost containment.

Roberts, board president Charlie Wood, Danny Gililland and Shana Chaplin voted to bar the union from negotiations, while Williams and Bill Vasquez voted against withdrawing recognition. Tatum abstained, with mixed emotions, she said.

Of the board action Tuesday, “It’s a sad day,” said Linda Mont-gomery, former PASS president who is now serving a three-year term as president of the Educational Support Professionals, a national association of support staff unions. In the past, Montgomery served as PASS’s negotiator.

She said the board could regret its actions if the Teamsters Union replaces PASS. The main sticking point seemed to be the amount of pay raises. PASS wanted about 3 percent, the district offered 1.65 percent, saying that was all it could afford.