School Board weighs pros and cons of collective bargaining policies

Tuesday, August 2, 2011 | 5:16 p.m. CDT; updated 6:17 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 2, 2011

COLUMBIA — Next month, for the first time, the Columbia School Board will adopt a collective bargaining policy for teachers and school employees.

The addition of such a policy comes four years after a Missouri Supreme Court ruling allowing public employees to collectively bargain with their employers. This means public school teachers and other employees such as bus drivers and custodians can negotiate certain terms of their employment, including salaries and benefits.

The School Board will vote on one of two versions under consideration:

Version one would allow:

  • One bargaining representative, such as Columbia Missouri National Education Association or Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association, to represent teachers and employees in the collective bargaining process.

Version two would allow:

  • One representative or multiple representatives to stand for teachers and employees in the bargaining process.

Both versions also offer the option to vote for no representation at all, meaning the School Board would confer with teachers but would ultimately make decisions about employment conditions. 

Superintendent Chris Belcher said he thinks the first version would be more successful, mainly because it would involve less legal entanglement. He said the option of multiple representatives is infrequently used and is one that could be challenged in the courts if groups cannot come to a bargaining decision. 

“Version one is the safest route, and it puts the decisions in the hands of the teachers,” Belcher said at a School Board meeting on Thursday.

During their meeting, board members went through the pros and cons of each version.

Belcher said the first version provides a clearer voice from one representative and is more consistent with collective bargaining setups across the nation. But having one group as the voice for all employees could exclude some perspectives and create divisiveness among teachers based on group affiliation, he said.

More cons came up in the discussion of the second version. Belcher's main concern was that multiple representatives might not agree on bargaining negotiations, resulting in a much harder process.

"The teachers may have a split opinion on a certain topic, and if they can't come to a decision, that could create real problems," Belcher said Tuesday. "We would still negotiate, but it would be a tougher issue to get both sides to come to an agreement."

But a plus of multiple representation is that employees could express multiple perspectives during the bargaining process, he said.

For that reason, Kari Schuster, president of the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association, favors version two. Multiple voices are important in the collective bargaining process, she said.

Once the board chooses a model, a bargaining unit or units will negotiate a master contract, and the board has the authority to accept or reject this contract.

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