Protecting and Strengthening Your Contract in the Time of COVID-19

Working and learning environments are changing drastically during this pandemic. Before schools resume instruction this fall, it's crucial that our members fight for sound contracts and collective bargaining agreements that provide ample job and health protections. 

The American Federation of School Administrators (AFSA) offered members negotiation and contracting advice during Monday’s professional development course, a part of the “Summer of Learning” series. AFSA Secretary-Treasury Dr. Lauran Waters-Cherry and General Counsel Bruce Bryant, Esq., led the webinar, emphasizing the importance of open communication with districts. 

“Not being at the table where reopening decisions are being discussed is not an option,” Waters-Cherry said. “We have to have member listening campaigns such that we are clearly communicating our health and safety needs and those of students.” 

"In getting ready for collective bargaining, you need to establish what you want, and what the district wants from you," Bryant said. "Look for the overlap. Make sure they know what is important to you, and that you know what's important to them." 

 AFSA laid out the this five-point strategy for collective bargaining during the pandemic: 

  1. Know your membership: Communication within the union is key. Each local has its priorities, and yours should be well-established before entering negotiations. Are members more concerned with extending sick leave or guaranteeing work-from-home capabilities? Knowing your priorities will allow you to present a united front in the bargaining room.
  2. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it: If your local union is satisfied with specific areas of your current agreement, don’t bring them up in negotiations. It’s best to conserve time for more pressing matters. 
  3. What do you want and what do they want: Have a thorough understanding of the school district’s priorities. Doing so will help you to find commonalities and to better explain how your positions will benefit the entire learning community. 
  4. Mandatory subjects vs. management prerogatives: “Mandatory subjects” such as wages, hours, and terms and conditions of employment must be bargained between the employer and the union. All other subjects are considered “management prerogatives,” meaning the employer can deny negotiating the topics. However, the impact of management prerogatives on employees do qualify as mandatory subjects. Bottom line: you should be prepared to bring anything to the table. 
  5. COVID-19 subjects (temporary or permanent): Compromises are necessary to get through this crisis. While negotiations require some flexibility, it’s imperative to define which concessions are temporary. All concessions, temporary or permanent, must be negotiated and put in writing. 

"As management prerogatives are taken, which many will be for making plans for the reopening of schools ... make sure that you stand up and say something. If not, the district's unilateral positions will stand," Bryant said. 

"In the coming year as schools reopen, educators are going to be doing at-risk jobs," he added. "They will be out doing their jobs, and going above and beyond at their jobs, and that is to be honored and respected. 

"We are sailing uncharted waters," he noted, "but we are doing so together. Therefore, it’s vital that school leaders use their collective voice to ensure safe and rich learning environments." 

Waters-Cherry concluded the session by saying “Educators are a special group ... You’re the very heart of what we are and what we try to be. Be sure you’re communicating with each other, trust each other, and trust your gut. We thank you and we are here for you.”