Education group submits petition for exclusive representation

Thursday, May 3, 2012 | 3:44 p.m. CDT; updated 3:53 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 3, 2012

COLUMBIA — Columbia teachers will likely vote in the fall on a proposal to elect a teacher group to collectively bargain with the district, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Chris Belcher said.

The Columbia Missouri National Education Association, one teacher group in Columbia, submitted an election petition Friday to the district to further a collective bargaining policy approved in January.

CMNEA's submission sets the foundation for other labor unions and associations to have a more active role in the district’s dialogue with teachers. Other teacher groups have at least 20 days to send their submissions to the district to be considered for the election.

A school board notice said that the deadline for teacher groups to send in submissions is 4:30 p.m. on June 1.

Belcher said once this time period has passed, the submissions will be reviewed for completion by a "designated person" who is not part of a teacher group or the district. Then, the school board will set a date to review them. Belcher said the school board will probably see the submissions this summer. 

The vote:

  • If the petition is approved, the vote would occur in the fall. District spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark said the district is still in the process of defining whether teachers will be the only employees eligible to vote.
  • Teachers would have the option to vote for a group to be exclusive representatives or to maintain the current “meet and confer” system, which is a less formal communication between teacher groups and the district. Either option needs to receive 50 percent, or a simple majority, to win. 

Policy change sparks idea for exclusive representation

In January, the issue of collective bargaining was put at the forefront of teacher and district discussions when the school board passed two policies, HA and HH

Baumstark said these policies work as guidelines for how the district approaches the collective bargaining process. She said the district uses policy HA as a guideline for the "meet and confer" system.

Policy HH proposes to use one teacher group, such as CMNEA, as an "exclusive representative" for the teachers to address salaries, benefits and other conditions of employment with the district.

Belcher and Baumstark said policy HH comes in response to a 2007 Missouri Supreme Court decision that made collective bargaining legal for teachers and other public employees. Old labor precedents set in the 1940s did not include teachers and applied collective bargaining only to private sector workers.

Baumstark said that once the court made its decision, Missouri school districts expected the state legislature to create a law defining how teachers would be represented for collective bargaining. No such law was proposed, so districts took the issue into their own hands and created their own policies.

Helping to 'keep the conversation flowing'

CMNEA president Susan McClintic said elections for exclusive representation for teachers are difficult because there is no official law that defines the process. She said groups such as CMNEA serve as a way to determine the district's and the teachers' responsibilities. They are there to keep the conversation flowing.

"What we think we can bring to the table are discussions that are driven by employees and employers and also have experts at the table," McClintic. "Then you get to have the people that matter at the table, which can essentially create better learning environments for children." 

Belcher said he’s concerned policy HH could make collective bargaining and teacher representation in the district too bureaucratic. He said he is afraid that the dialogue between the district and the teachers might not be as inclusive or open with the proposal.

Moreover, he said, the collective bargaining process needs to focus solely on the teachers and what they want.

"This is truly the teachers' decision," Belcher said. "It's not my decision, it's not the board of education's. It's the teachers'."

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.

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