Ohio Union Rep’s Vacation Halts Teacher Negotiations

Elyria City Schools classes resume in two weeks, but the district hasn’t reached a contract with teachers because the local Ohio Education Association (OEA) rep halted negotiations this summer to take a five-week vacation.

According to the school board, “the Union ended the negotiations” five minutes into the third day of discussion on a new contract “and refused to meet the remainder of the day.”

On the fourth day of negotiations, “the Union’s bargaining representative, Airica Clay, advised the Board she was unavailable for the month of July to meet due to her vacation plans.”

Clay is an OEA “labor relations consultant,” and last year she was paid $140,751 with money taken from teachers across the state.

Clay did not respond to a May 28 contract proposal from the Elyria school board until July 2. When the board presented a counter less than two hours later, Clay “unilaterally ended negotiations for the day” and then informed the school board she “was unavailable until the week of August 18, 2014.”

Elyria City Schools teachers are scheduled to return to work on August 18, one week before students return to class on August 25.

“At no time did the Union offer to attempt to secure another Union representative to substitute for Clay during her extended voluntary absence,” the school board asserts.

The previous contract between the Elyria City School District Board of Education and Elyria Education Association expired on May 31. On May 30, the school superintendent and assistant treasurer were each quoted in a local newspaper story about the district’s finances.

Katie Henes, the assistant treasurer, told The Chronicle-Telegram that automatic step increases in teacher pay “would cause us to go into the red before 2018.”

“I know there is the sentiment with public employees that if you have money, that means it’s for us to pay them,” Superintendent Paul Rigda told the paper. “However, the public is the least interested in that mindset. They want to know if we’re taking care of the buildings, buying supplies for students and putting in the proper programs for student growth.”

Regarding a memo signed with the 2011 contract stating that longevity-based step increases — which were forbidden under Senate Bill 5, the public union reform law wiped out by a $40 million union smear campaign — would resume with the next contract, Rigda said, “That could be problematic.”

“If we were held to that statement today, that would mean major staff reductions including layoffs,” Rigda added.

As OEA locals typically do whenever public officials provide taxpayers with any insight into public union negotiations, the Elyria Education Association filed a State Employment Relations Board (SERB) unfair labor practice charge in response to the Chronicle-Telegram story.

The union accused the district of making “negative and disparaging comments about the bargaining unit members and their bargaining proposals regarding salaries and step freezes.”

“Superintendent Paul Rigda is quoted advising teachers seeking their rights to step movement on the salary schedule could create financial straits on the district and cause cut backs in staff,” the union’s complaint explained.

“The Article presented the teachers in a negative light and generated numerous negative comments about the teachers in the newspaper,” the OEA local added.

OEA is the largest and most powerful left-wing lobbying group in Ohio, and is a state affiliate of the gargantuan National Education Association (NEA).

Although the 2011 contract between Elyria City Schools and Elyria Education Association that expired this May froze step increases, it included 1.9 percent annual increases in base pay.

Because of restrictive union contract provisions, compensation costs for Elyria City Schools were already ballooning out of control by 2010.

From the 2005-2006 school year to the 2009-2010 school year, the average Elyria teacher’s salary increased by more than 10 percent, from $49,171 to $54,101.

The Elyria City Schools five-year forecast the district submitted to the Ohio Department of Education this May projected a $6.4 million deficit in 2016, a $13.8 million deficit in 2017, and a $15.3 million deficit in 2018. Based on the district’s projections, cash reserves will be depleted by the end of 2017.

A representative of Elyria City Schools contacted by Media Trackers on August 7 declined to provide any update on contract negotiations while SERB considers the district’s and the OEA local’s complaints.

The Chronicle-Telegram reported last month that nearby Keystone Local School District filed a SERB unfair labor practice charge with allegations similar to the Elyria school board’s. Ms. Clay is also the OEA bargaining representative for the Keystone teachers union.

The Keystone school board accused Clay and OEA of “intentionally employing dilatory tactics to prevent the Parties from reaching agreement or ultimate impasse on a successor collective bargaining agreement,” and of colluding with another union to delay its negotiations with the district, as well.

For the children, no doubt.