Heated negotiations lead to months of delay
On Aug. 28, the Montgomery County Board of Education (BOE) and the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) jointly filed a formal notice of impasse with the Maryland Public Schools Labor Relations Board (PSLRB).
The filing marked the first time in over twenty years that the two sides were not able to reach a contract agreement before the existing one expired. The two sides have since started a mediation process, as outlined in the current contract.
For almost a year, the BOE and the MCEA have been unable to find consensus on a labor contract, which would apply to the more than 14,000 MCEA members who work as teachers, counselors, and other staff in MCPS.
The current contract was set to expire on June 30, but the day before it expired, the BOE extended the contract to July 31 to allow more time for negotiation. On Aug. 6, after the July deadline passed without settling on a new contract, the BOE formally extended the previous contract indefinitely until a new contract is adopted.
In early October, MCPS and the MCEA agreed on a mediator, Joshua Javits, who will work with both parties to resolve the remaining areas of disagreement in contract negotiations. If the sides fail to find a solution during mediation, the PSLRB has the ultimate authority to choose the final contract out of three proposed drafts from the MCEA, the BOE, and Javits.
The BOE has declined to comment throughout the contract negotiations and resulting impasse. David Stein, a Blair math teacher and member of the MCEA bargaining committee, said that before the impasse was confirmed in August by the PSLRB, members of the MCEA could only talk privately amongst themselves. But since the impasse was declared on Aug. 28, Stein has had the freedom to speak publicly about the negotiations.
In an Oct. 5 blog post, the MCEA outlined the issues that, in their mind, have caused the stalemate. “[The] MCEA continues to stand firm for individual control of planning time, transparency in school resource allocations and environmental concerns, and greater emphasis on ensuring equity for our students as well as issues related to wages in year two of the contract,” they wrote. The union had previously published a list of 21 points of disagreement.
As part of addressing the equity issues for students, the MCEA wants to incorporate language regarding the school-to-prison pipeline into the contract. Stein explained the importance of incorporating this idea: “[The school-to-prison pipeline is] a well-researched phenomenon in our schools where the atmosphere in schools... ends up doing nothing for certain students but putting them on a path for prison.”
Stein highlighted this as an equity concern. “Those students [being put on a path toward prison] are disproportionately Black and Brown students… but the school district refuses to use those words in our contract,” he said. According to Stein, the BOE referred to the phrase school to prison pipeline as “too jargony.”
The BOE and MCEA have had issues working together in the past, including some other instances of enlisting outside assistance. After the MCEA proposed the use of an “interest-based bargaining process” in 1998, the BOE and the MCEA hired Conflict Management Inc. to mediate negotiations.
For the current contract negotiations however, the MCEA did not use “interest-based bargaining,” instead returning to a more formal route of trading contracts back and forth.
Stein explained how, this year, the MCEA allowed open bargaining so that MCEA members—not just those on the committee—could observe the negotiations. “Our members could come to the bargaining sessions and see what's happening,” he said. “We never did that before.”
The BOE announced in September that they are hiring controversial attorney Ron Taylor of Venable LLP to represent them during the upcoming impasse proceedings. Taylor has a record of anti-union sentiments. The MCEA has questioned the expense and possible bias of this outside counsel.