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Columbia teachers vote to approve exclusive union representation

Thursday, October 11, 2012 | 8:40 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia Public School teachers voted Thursday to have the Columbia Missouri National Education Association exclusively represent them in all forthcoming collective bargaining negotiations with the district.

Until now, the district and its teachers operated on a meet and confer basis, an informal process of negotiating salaries, benefits and other conditions of employment. For the first time, teachers will be exclusively represented by a union, Susan McClintic, the association's president and second-grade teacher at Alpha Hart Lewis Elementary School, said.

"It formalizes the process," Superintendent Chris Belcher said. "We had a history here in Columbia of having lots of input, and we will still have lots of input, but when it comes to the formal inputs — about working conditions, compensation — those will become negotiated."

Of the 1,311 district employees who were eligible to vote in Thursday's election, 933 cast ballots, Belcher said. About 56 percent voted in favor of exclusive representation. The election was conducted by the League of Women Voters at 27 polling places across Columbia. Employees could vote to either be represented by the association or to continue with the meet and confer system, according to an email sent by district spokeswoman Michelle Baumstark.

McClintic said she was pleased with the democratic process and the opportunity for members of the bargaining unit to vote for how they want to be represented and negotiate.

"The members of the unit have spoken, and we look forward to representing all of them," she said.

To be eligible to vote as part of the bargaining unit, employees had to hold full-time positions that required them to have teaching certificates. This includes classroom teachers, career center teachers, counselors, speech and language pathologists, media specialists and clinical associates, according to the district's election notice.

Employees who hold teaching certificates but do not need those certificates to do their jobs were not able to vote, including all administrators, part-time employees and Parents As Teachers educators.

The district chose the specifications dictating which employees could participate in the bargaining unit, McClintic said. She was careful to add that members of the bargaining unit do not have to be members of the association to be able to negotiate their contracts.

Kari Schuster, president of the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association, said she and her organization had hoped to retain the meet and confer system.

"We will move forward and continue to serve our members and others who are unaffiliated in the district," Schuster said.

The association has been trying to get the board to consider exclusive representation since 2007, McClintic said. In January 2012, the board passed Policy HH, which proposed a vote on exclusive representation.

The policy was formed in response to a 2007 Missouri Supreme Court decision that made collective bargaining legal for teachers and other public employees., according to a previous Missourian article. Old labor standards made in the 1940s did not require teachers to be included in collective bargaining.

The association will proceed by informing its members of the outcome of the vote and, within the month, electronically surveying the rest of the bargaining unit to begin the negotiating process, McClintic said. She said the district will be made even better by "bringing the experts to the table."

The union has to start providing the information it collects to the district by December, McClintic said. Because the process is new, McClintic said she is unsure when the first negotiations with the new representation will begin.

Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.


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