A labor relations consultant’s extensive personal vacation time is being blamed for holding up contract talks between teachers and officials at two local districts.
Attorneys for both Elyria and Keystone schools filed unfair labor practice charges this week against the Ohio Education Association in which they claimed its bargaining representative Airica Clay has stalled talks while she vacations.
Both districts have asked their respective unions to find an alternative representative, if possible, and return to the bargaining table sooner.
The complaints have been filed with the State Employment Relations Board. Christine Dietsch, executive director, said the board does not comment on pending cases.
According to Elyria’s complaint, negotiations between Elyria and the Elyria Education Association are not occurring in a timely manner. The two sides are trying to hammer out a new deal as the current teachers’ contract expired at the end of May.
But just a handful of meetings, some lasting just a few minutes, have taken place. This is according to the unfair labor practice charge the district is levying against the union. The union has refused to bargain since July 2 and has informed the district that union representatives would not be available until the week of Aug. 18.
Clay told school officials she has five weeks of vacation she is using between now and then.
Teachers return to work the week of Aug. 18 and students report to school Aug. 25.
Superintendent Paul Rigda declined to comment. Mark Smith, president of the EEA, did not return a call for comment.
This is the second unfair labor practice charge to come out of negotiation talks in Elyria. The EEA filed its own against the district earlier this month in response to remarks Rigda made in a May 30 article published in The Chronicle-Telegram.
The union contends Rigda made negative and disparaging comments about the bargaining unit when he was asked to comment on the district’s five-year forecast and how step increases, the longevity pay system of teachers, fit into predictions.
That case also is being investigated by SERB.
In addition to Elyria, Keystone Schools filed an unfair labor practice charge Thursday. Superintendent Jay Arbaugh declined to comment.
The detailed complaint explains how school officials have tried since February to bring the Keystone Local Education Association to the table in advance the contract’s expiration date of June 30.
The two sides did not exchange initial proposals until April 30. The district proposed the teachers’ union take concessions in health care, including a change in health plans, paying higher costs and eliminating flex benefits. In exchange, the district agreed to maintain salary step increases.
The complaint alleges that when the two sides did meet, Clay was argumentative and abrasive and would often comment sarcastically and condescendingly. By May 7, an impasse had been reached and the two sides agreed to move to mediation with a federal mediator.
The first mediation session was to take place June 23 at the Lorain County Community College’s Wellington campus, but was canceled by the union with just 13 hours notice. After haggling over meeting dates and vacation schedules, the next mediation session is set for Aug. 22, the first day teachers are due back to work.
Keystone’s complaint also addresses a number of different issues it has with the union including threats to file an unfair labor practice charge if the district held an informational meeting for employees to discuss health care and grievances filed by union members.
In Elyria’s complaint, Gary Taylor, the district’s director of human resources, outlined the negotiation calendar beginning on May 13 when both sides exchanged initial proposals. At that meeting, both sides agreed to meet again May 28, May 30 and June 3 with each meeting to take place between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The May 28 meeting took place. But on May 30, the district’s team arrived ready to spend the day, but without any notice the union ended the session five minutes later and refused to meet for the remainder of the day.
“This refusal to bargain was in retaliation for an editorial that appeared in the local paper, which is now the subject of an unfair labor practice charge,” the narrative read.
At the June 3 meeting, more meeting dates for July 1 and July 2 were set. However, at that meeting, the union’s bargaining representative, Airica Clay, said she was unavailable for the month of July to meet due to her vacation plans.
Talks are progressing in Elyria, according to the complaint. But the negotiations are not close to nailing down the economic issues that separate the two sides. The district presented its economic proposal on May 28 and the union responded on July 2 with a counterproposal.
The district said it considered the union’s proposal for almost an hour and a half on that day before it presented a second offer, which “reflected movement towards reaching a contract.” The complaint states that the union refused to respond to the district’s proposal.
“At no time did the union offer to attempt to secure another union representative to substitute for Clay during her extended voluntary absence,” the complaint said.