The Teacher’s Association of Sag Harbor (TASH) President Eileen Kochanasz revealed on Friday, December 18, that TASH would file formal charges against the Sag Harbor School District for bargaining in bad faith. NYSUT, the teacher’s union representatives, helped draft the charges over the weekend and by Wednesday, December 23, the charges were formally submitted to the New York State Public Employees Relations Board (PERB).
Above: TASH president Eileen Kochanasz speaking to fellow members of NYSUT at a rally in late October.
Unlike civil matters which are argued in court, TASH’s charges against the district will be reviewed, presided over and a final verdict will be rendered by PERB.
“This is the first time [TASH is filing charges against the district],” said Kochanasz on Friday. “We haven’t done this before because it is hard to come up with substantive evidence but we have it now.”
TASH filed two separate charges. The first alleges the district demanded that TASH agree to the district’s proposals in two key areas before returning to the bargaining table in September. Kochanasz stated in a press release distributed Wednesday that “the concessions the District sought hadn’t even been recommended by the Fact Finder in his report less than a month earlier.”
The second charge includes a number of alleged actions taken by the board which TASH believes meets the criteria of bargaining in bad faith.
In the release, Kochanasz claims the board hasn’t authorized its representatives to bargain at scheduled negotiation sessions, while it has established pre-conditions to bargaining and presented proposals which were less favorable to TASH than previous ones.
“[The board's] lack of urgency since February of 2008 in these negotiations has been self-evident, and their assurances to the public that they would ‘negotiate through the night and fully authorize their negotiators to bargain’ ring false and hollow in the face of their actions,” asserted Kochanasz in the release.
The U.S. Office of Personnel Management defines good faith bargaining as “the duty to approach negotiations with a sincere resolve to reach a collective bargaining agreement, to be represented by properly authorized representatives who are prepared to discuss and negotiate on any condition of employment, to meet at reasonable times and places as frequently as may be necessary and to avoid unnecessary delays, and, in the case of agency, to furnish upon request data necessary to negotiation.”
Conversely, the Director of Public Employment Practices with PERB, Monty Klein, characterized “bad faith bargaining” as the absence of a sincere desire of one party to reach an agreement with another party.
“We [the district] certainly believe that we have bargained in good faith and will continue to bargain in good faith,” responded school superintendent Dr. John Gratto in an interview last week. “They [TASH] are alleging that we have bargained in bad faith. Basically their contention is that we need to offer more money.”
“It is an unproductive waste of time and money to pursue this. Really, the issue is that we disagree,” claimed Dr. Gratto.
Dr. Gratto first heard of TASH’s plans through the rumor mill late last week. He met with Kochanasz on Friday and said he urged TASH to abandon the charges.
“Even if PERB sides with the teachers, they would probably direct us back to the bargaining table. PERB can’t make any decisions about what the district should offer,” noted Dr. Gratto.
Klein confirmed that bargaining in good faith doesn’t require an agreement to a particular proposal but speaks to adhering to a process of bargaining. A ruling in this type of case, added Klein, seeks to bring the parties to a position they would have been in had there not been a breech in good faith bargaining.
“This is another tactic to try and force the board to move from their positions that they think are fair towards positions TASH thinks are more favorable,” stated Dr. Gratto. “The board has clearly thought through their proposals and the long term impact of them. Despite the pressure tactics of tee-shirts, personal attacks picketing and filing charges, the board’s position is clearly thought through.”
Klein explained that he will review the charges and then assign the case to an administrative law judge with PERB. This judge schedules an off-the-record pre-hearing conference with both parties to ascertain the issues at hand and see if it can be resolved. If the parties fail to reach a voluntary settlement at this point, the case istransferred to a different judge who issues a formal decision. The pre-hearing conference is scheduled around six-weeks after the charges are first received by PERB. Klein noted that the average case is resolved in about a year, but added that this time frame depends on the particularly case.