May 9, 2016

New Revelations About DC Teacher Contract Negotiations

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.

Disclaimer: I am not a member of the WTU Contract Negotiations team.

Noticeably absent are details in Washington Teachers' Union email blasts about current contract negotiations between WTU and DC Public Schools’ Chancellor Kaya Henderson.  What members have not heard, or read, is why there isn’t a contract after almost three years of negotiations?   That’s a question that should be posed to WTU Chief Negotiator and union president Elizabeth Davis.  

The coverage of DC City Council Fiscal Year '17 Budget Oversight April 22nd hearing was an eye opener for most who viewed it. Education Chairman David Grosso questioned Chancellor Henderson regarding the status of teacher contract negotiations. Mr. Grosso was clear that he wanted to get  Henderson’s response on the record because he had been contacted by teachers through informal channels who thought it was unfair to not get a raise after three plus years. Henderson replied: “We had our final negotiation session with our mediator on April 6th. We determined we could not get to agreement on a number of key issues. We have suspended our negotiations. There is a union election that is happening over the coming weeks and it is probably best to revisit the negotiation conversation after the election happens.” 

Henderson’s answer indicates that the final contract negotiation session was held on April 6. Henderson also stated that the decision to suspend contact negotiations was due to the fact that there was disagreement on a number of important issues that could not be resolved, even with the help of a mediator.

There are two sides to every story. That’s why it’s important for members to know all pertinent allowable details about contract negotiations. Given that our WTU Contract Negotiation team of teachers was recently dismissed by WTU, members aren’t likely to get to the bottom of this debate anytime soon by speaking with teachers/members who were removed from weekly negotiation sessions.  

WAMU radio covered the Wilson High School teacher-led rally on May 6, 2016 organized by Jim Leonard, the schools union Building Representative. The rally was organized in response to suspension of contract negotiations by Chancellor Henderson. Teachers voiced their concerns about the status of teacher contract negotiations and appealed to Henderson to return to contract talks with WTU President Davis.

WAMU Reporter Kavitha Cardoza’s coverage of this rally advanced new revelations about teacher contract talks in her article and podcast. Click on the link to the right to listen to the podcast: “Are DCPS Teachers Due For A Bigger Raise? Negotiations Fuels Protest.” Chancellor Henderson revealed to Cardoza that she offered multiple compensation proposals to WTU for consideration; a well-kept secret by Davis. In a WTU email recently sent to union members, Davis reported that only a 1% raise was offered by Henderson. 

Henderson says, there were multiple proposals on the table — not just the one that called for a 1 percent raise. “By law we’re not supposed to publicly discuss them. But I will tell you the WTU picked the compensation proposal that they thought was most advantageous to publicize,” according to Henderson. Another question worth asking Chief Negotiator Davis is why weren’t rank and file members informed that there were other compensation proposals offered by Henderson? 

The WAMU piece provided some insights that had not been made public before. Over the last years, WTU President Davis stated that Henderson was refusing to meet. The WAMU article revealed:

Henderson says“DCPS has been negotiating with the Washington Teacher’s Union since 2013. “This mischaracterization of 'I don’t want to negotiate for our teachers.' It’s just not true," she says. She says when both sides couldn’t come to an agreement, they brought in a mediator.  But they still couldn’t agree on teacher salaries or how grievances should be resolved.”

In the WAMU story, Henderson gives her rationale for suspending negotiations. Last month Chancellor Henderson decided to suspend negotiations until after the Washington Teachers’ Union holds its internal elections in early June.

Henderson says, “The closer the elections got, the more urgent and the less rational the conversations became, because there are higher stakes right? And so I would like to move past the election season where we can have regular old conversations again." 

No one disputes that teachers deserve and need a long awaited pay raise as well as reasonably agreed upon improvements in working conditions, for which a political strategy is paramount.  However, in order to engender vital and substantive support from the rank and file, members deserve to be told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!  Thus, in the interest of transparency and union democracy, let the TRUTH be told.

© Candi Peterson, 2016


Anonymous said...

I just want to thank you for always giving us the untold part of the story. Indeed the struggle

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the revelations.

Anonymous said...

It's hard to believe that every election leads to mismanagement. Candi, I had so much confidence in you and Liz. I love you and your work for teachers and counselors. What is the problem with our union?

Candi Peterson said...

Anonymous June 8th @ 10:33 pm- I'm not saying every election leads to mismanagement but several certainly have.

There has to be checks and balances by our Executive Board and ultimately our membership. The E-Board must always check the president and can't sit idly by and simply carry favor or act as sycophants. For many years now, our Board(s) have not been accountable to our membership and have been very passive and unwilling to adhere to their prescribed roles as outlined in the constitution.