Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Metro Council votes to urge Jesse Register to return to previous terms with service workers

The council passed a memorializing resolution earlier this evening, 25-9, encouraging Nashville schools Director Jesse Register to return to its previous practice of negotiating with the unions representing service workers and bus drivers. A month ago Mr. Register appeared to move on from the previous memorandum of understanding with the unions, encouraging employees to break from the unions and thus settle for a distinct disadvantage to the school district, which is not vested with protecting service workers' best interests ahead of those of district executives and corporate patrons of the district.

Tonight's resolution passed overwhelmingly. CM Emily Evans voted for it, calling Mr. Register's break with previous union arrangements "needless" and the breach between the district and the unions a "gratuitous fight". She described the MNPS decision to discard unions one "without any documented benefits for students". Council conservatives--who rarely stand with workers--were predictably cool toward the motion urging the school district to reengage the unions. Duane Dominy bemoaned the strained relationship between the district and its workers, but he based his opposition to the bill on the unfounded conjecture that it would cause greater strain.

SEIU photo of former MNPS board member
& current CM Karen Johnson
meeting with union members
However, there is not much more the council can do with a non-binding, toothless resolution to drive a wedge between the workers and Jesse Register than he has not already done himself. Mr. Register seems more engaging of  "CEO Champions" for his new "academies" than of the workers at the base of the MNPS pyramid:

Register ... [and] the school board’s “executive staff” decided to discontinue the MOUs entirely by deleting the school system’s Labor Negotiations Policy.

Register referenced Tennessee’s Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act, which was passed by the state legislature last year and replaced teachers’ collective bargaining rights with “collaborative conferencing” ....

“In recognition of state law regarding teachers’ unions, and the non-binding nature of any MOU with support unions, my executive staff has met and voted to rescind HR 5.129, the Labor Negotiations Policy.”

The move didn’t go over well with SEIU Local 205 president Doug Collier.

“Dr. Register is now trying to use those laws — which do not apply to school support employees — as an excuse to overreach his authority and silence the voices of thousands of loyal city employees who voted to form a union,” Collier said in a press release.

The USW and SEIU sent complaint letters to Metro Board of Education Chairwoman Gracie Porter earlier this month.

Gracie Porter never replied publicly. At least there is no indication in online news searches that she did. I received tips a couple of years ago that Ms. Porter cast the deciding vote for Mr. Register's plan to privatize the service workers' jobs in exchange for the position of board chair. And no good deed goes unpunished, as SEIU had already canvassed for Ms. Porter during her campaign for office four years before that. I can understand how speaking out publicly on Mr. Register's rejection of unions might put Ms. Porter in an awkward position.

Given the district's terse reply to the media tonight, Jesse Register does not appear too receptive to the council's resolution. I am Jack's total lack of surprise.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the lucid comments on the issue. I'm one of the unionized MNPS workers affected by Dr. Register's actions, and I'm dismayed by some reporters' lack of understanding of the basic issue.

    What it comes down to is I would like to have a reasonable say in the creation of the handbook that governs my service as an worker in our schools. I believe such consultation not only provides me with a work environment in which I feel secure, but it also ensures my service to our children's educations is more effective. A cooperative environment aids all parties.

    We're not asking for the moon. As one example, Dr. Register removed our right to appeal verbal and written reprimands, dictating they are no longer regarded as disciplinary action. Of course, such can still be used as grounds to terminate an employee. Under the new handbook, I can't appeal a written reprimand, even if it's a blatant attack on me by a disgruntled supervisor.

    Another example of unproductive animosity in Dr. Register's behavior is his deletion of the recall policy. This policy allowed employees in good standing laid off due to budget cuts to apply for other jobs in the system for which they are qualified. Such a policy works for all parties-- it provides the employee with a level of security in his continued employment, and it means the BOE doesn't have to go through the whole vetting process (references, drug testing, background check).

    I can cite plenty of other examples.

    Dr. Register claims that the support employee unions have somehow been uncooperative. Much to the contrary, we have worked for nearly a year to resolve these problems in a reasonable manner, avoiding the media and repeatedly asking him to collaborate with us. He has ignored us, deceived us, and outright lied to us at every turn.

    Remember, our unions are the duly-elected bargaining agents for about half of MNPS support employees. We invited them, and we also have the power to end that relationship. Nobody is obligated to join, but many of us still choose to pay a portion of our wages so we can have a say in the condition of our labor. In being actively antagonistic to their unions, Register is shoving his thumb in the eye of the very people he wants to watch our children.

    Nobody works for a public school system to get rich. I took a pay cut when I accepted my job, which I was happy to do. After a decade of personal economic turmoil, I was looking for a job that offered some semblance of stability. Dr. Register is attacking that stability for no good reason.

    Frankly, if Dr. Register's actions are allowed to stand, I fear the result will be higher legal costs for the district. As the changes enacted remove a number of pathways to resolve employment conflicts before they spin out of hand, we're likely to see more disputes spill over into court rooms.

    I really don't like that idea. Taking problems to court is expensive and slow and generally too painful for all parties involved. It's like opting for heart surgery to avoid your daily walks. Unfortunately, Dr. Register seems to think it an attractive option.

    I'm ready to stop all this and cooperate with Dr. Register at any time. I would like to see him come to our union reps (commonly MNPS employees elected as uncompensated liaisons) and say, "here are my goals, can you work with me to ensure the support staff are on board with this?" Or, "this clause in the existing handbook is really causing HR problems, can you work with them to adapt it to better suit our needs?"

    Look, I don't want crappy employees working in MNPS any more than he does. They make me look bad, and I'm serious about what I do. I just don't suffer from the delusion that his managers and principals are perfect judges of character w/ unimpeachable ethics. We need processes in place that ensure people are treated fairly.