Nov 9, 2015

A Guide to Interpreting WTU-DCPS Contract Talks

Written by Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Statements or expressions of opinions herein 'do not' represent the views or official positions of DCPS, AFT, Washington Teachers' Union (WTU) or its members. Views are my own. 

For the record, I am not a member of the WTU contract negotiations team. Like you are, I am a  concerned union member. 

From where I sit, it’s not looking good for the negotiations between WTU and DCPS. Let’s just say negotiations aren’t dead, but negotiations seem to have broken off with WTU and members of the Chancellor’s team.

DCPS teachers are complaining because the last contract expired in 2012, and three years later, they still are without a contract. Having gone this long without a contract, it’s understandable why many teachers’ see no real end in sight.

In reaction to teachers’ concerns about not having a contract, WTU recently released a contract update on October 19, 2015; titled WTU-DCPS Contract Talks FAQs. My analysis here is an attempt to provide educators a guide in interpreting WTU-DCPS contract talks. The WTU FAQ sheet reveals:

“WTU President Elizabeth Davis and our negotiators are committed to reaching a new agreement by the end of December. In order to accomplish this, the WTU will direct its focus to engaging in full-time contract negotiations. We’re pushing hard towards that goal….”

We must ask if President Davis is recommending full time contract negotiations, is this a viable option given that most of the members on the negotiating team are  either full-time principals on the chancellor’s team or full-time teachers on the WTU team? Is it likely that DCPS would agree to this when this proposal would require that teachers and principals on both sides would have to abandon their schools/classes for an extended period of time?  Is the end of December 2015 a realistic time frame for the completion of a tentative agreement?  It seems highly unlikely unless Davis has a tentative agreement tucked away in her hip pocket. When did both sides-WTU and DCPS last meet? Was it during last school year (14-15) ?

The WTU FAQ sheet gives the following responses regarding Why negotiations
are taking so long?

“Bargaining can be a long and complicated process particularly when there are significant issues to be resolved. The talks have now stretched over two administrations. The former administration had offered proposals that would have lowered the professionalism and undercut the voice of teachers….

Your bargaining team drafted new proposals that would move us in a better direction …. Time and again, the school district has appeared to take the slow play approach to bargaining. We repeatedly proposed full time negotiations everyday-DCPS said no. We proposed meetings over the summer-DCPS said no. Back in January, we requested the financial and programmatic data essential to informed negotiations nearly 10 months later, we are still waiting. DCPS says it agrees with the goal of finishing by the end of the year, and we are hopeful DCPS actions in the future will represent a real commitment to this aim.

WTU and DCPS shared their respective proposals, and it was clear that we were far apart on some major issues; including protected planning time, class size, supplies and support.”

It’s a given that contract negotiations can be long and complicated and have spanned  two administrations under Saunders and now Davis. This is not news. This explanation  focuses on what former President Saunders’ administration offered in his contract proposal. What this explanation doesn’t tell us why President Davis has been unable to secure a tentative agreement in two years and three months in office?

 It would seem logical to me that both sides would disagree on the major issues cited above. Isn’t that the whole point of negotiations that there has to be give and take on both sides in order to reach a compromise?

There’s got to be more than just disagreements about when to hold contract meeting talks with DCPS.
What are the difficulties in communication on both sides?  Isn’t it true that previous contract teams didn’t meet full time or during summers yet negotiated a tentative agreement? The WTU FAQ sheet suggests that WTU proposed a 2015-16 contract negotiations schedule yet “DCPS said no.”  So are we to believe that the weekly dates printed in the WTU yearly 15-16 calendar  beginning September 10, 2015 and ending June 20, 2016 were all rejected by DCPS?

What does Davis mean when she states the school District has appeared to take the slow play approach to bargaining? The word ‘appears’ is the operative word in this sentence. It certainly conflicts with Davis’ earlier statements that the Chancellor and her team were refusing to meet.  As members, we deserve to hear the whole story not just some ‘talking points’ crafted to quell member dissension. Inquiring minds want to know the details.

What are our priorities?  The WTU FAQ sheet lists the following as priorities:

"Educational resources, expansion of the community schools concept, mutual consent alternative, time and tools and salary and benefits."

We all agree that resources, planning time, salary and benefits are givens in most contracts. But let’s cut to the chase. What else besides a mutual consent alternative is among WTU’s top key priorities? For starters, how is WTU approaching DCPS’ desire to extend the school day? Is extended day a non-negotiable item for WTU?  Has WTU resigned not to discuss this issue with management?

Where are we now? The WTU FAQ sheet says:

"We are in the early stages of mediation process that began when DCPS asked-and WTU agreed- to seek the help of a mediator. President Davis has met several times with the proposed mediator, and hopefully with the agreement of DCPS, we will soon begin full time negotiations."

What is the conflict that led to a mediator being considered by DCPS?  Has WTU presented their choices for a mediator to DCPS? If so, when? If not, why not?

What’s next? The WTU FAQ sheet indicates:

"….. Transparency has been a guiding principle for your bargaining team. We have tried to make sure you have accurate, real time information on our negotiations. Over the next few weeks, your WTU leaders, district representatives and building representatives want to have conversations with as many members as possible…..”

I certainly hope transparency will be the new flavor of the day and is not just some promise of empty rhetoric.  So far the lack of transparency has not been the trademark of WTU Chief Negotiator Elizabeth Davis. After two plus years of negotiations, we are long overdue for regular updates.

We cannot remain complacent when it comes to teacher contract negotiations like many teachers did during the 2010 sellout contract negotiated by former WTU President George Parker and AFT President Randi Weingarten. What I hope to show here in this article  is that we must learn to interpret political double-speak because oftentimes we are given only partial truths, albeit from elected leaders. Feel free to use some of my questions posted here as a guide when asking questions about WTU contract talks.

On Tuesday, November 10th we will hold our next WTU Representative Assembly meeting at McKinley SHS @ 430 pm where teacher contract talks will be the subject on the agenda. Come prepared to ask the tough questions for which you want answers. Hope to see you there.

© Candi Peterson, 2015