The teachers’ union for Hopkins Public Schools has won a judgment in its favor in the wake of an unfair labor practice complaint it filed in January 2021.
Administrative Law Judge David M. Peltz of the Michigan Office of Administrative Hearings and Rules, last month issued his ruling that the Hopkins Board of Education unfairly kept the teachers’ union in the dark several months after implementing a policy concerning pay.
The union, led by President Jacob Oaster, filed an unfair labor practice asserting that the school district adopted Board Policy 3221 in which a teacher will not be eligible to advance on the salary grid if he or she is rated “ineffective” on the annual year-end performance evaluation or receives a “minimally effective” rating for two consecutive years.
Peltz wrote that the schools introduced a proposal that would have prohibited any teacher from receiving a “negotiated increase in compensation unless that individual was rated effective or highly effective on the final year end evaluation preceding the effective date of the compensation increase.”
The union rejected the school district’s proposal, maintaining it related to a prohibited subject of bargaining.
Oaster and the Hopkins Education Association contended that school board violated its obligation to bargain in good faith by unilaterally implementing the board policy without the union’s knowledge.
Supt. Gary Wood, in a public statement, explained that the Michigan Legislature a section of the State School Aid Act, requiring “a public school district to develop a performance-based compensation plan for its teachers as required under section 1250 of the Michigan Revised School Code. If a public school district fails to comply with the section 164h’s requirement, then the district risks losing 5% of their state school aid.
“The board wanted to avoid any risk of facing this penalty which would be devastating to the district’s budget and educational programming,” the superintendent said. “Five percent of the district’s state school aid was approximately $650,000 at the time the board adopted Policy 3221.”
The union, Peltz said, countered by proposing to add language to the contract authorizing the board to implement policies to comply with Section 164h of the State School Aid Act, provided that the union is given notice of the adoption of such policies and that the policies do not “in any way, alter the provisions contained in” the collective bargaining agreement.
Peltz ruled that, “It is undisputed that the (school district) did not provide notification to employees or to the HEA regarding the board’s adoption or implementation of Policy 3221 (on June 3, 2020) until several months later… it was not until Nov. 19, 2020, after the board ratified the wage reopener that respondent provided notice to the union of the existence of Board Policy 3221.”
The judge added that a public school employer “has extensive authority under the Act to develop and implement a performance-based method of compensation, including the content, standards and procedures of such a plan. That is not, however, the question which is implicated by the instant charge. The issue to be decided in this matter is whether the salary schedule agreed to by both the union and the school district in November of 2020 is unenforceable.
“To accept the premise that respondent is not bound by the negotiated salary schedule would essentially render a public school employer’s obligation to negotiate over the wages of its employees a nullity.”
The judge also said he found no merit to the school district’s contention that the union waived any objections to Board Policy 3221 on June 3, when it agreed to strike language from its proposal relating to conflicts with the agreement and entered into a tentative collective bargaining agreement giving the district the right to adopt a performance-based method of compensation contract.
“The record establishes that on or about June 15, 2020, the board ratified a collective bargaining agreement which contained a clause requiring the school district to provide notice to employees prior to the effective date of any policy adopted by the employer for the purpose of complying with Section 164h of the State School Aid Act. Just five days later, the Board adopted Policy 3221. There is no dispute that the school district failed to communicate with employees or the union about that policy prior to its adoption.”
Wood, in a public statement, wrote: “The board and its attorneys were disappointed with Judge Peltz’s decision and frustrated with the result. Previously, the board’s collective bargaining team had attempted repeatedly to negotiate with the HEA over this type of performance-based compensation plan that linked the teachers’ evaluation performance to their advancement on the salary schedule. Instead of bargaining over the board’s proposals, the HEA contended that negotiation over a performance-based compensation plan was a prohibited subject of bargaining.
“Because the HEA objected to the board’s bargaining proposals and the board reasonably believed it had authority to implement a performance-based compensation plan…”
Wood added, “Our attorneys have advised us that ALJ Peltz’s legal reasoning is flawed and that there are strong grounds to appeal this decision to the Michigan Employment Relations Commission, and if necessary, to the Michigan Court of Appeals. However, no teacher has been adversely affected by this board policy… The district faces no financial loss from this decision.”
The board has agreed to rescind the policy at its meeting this month and has had official statements of “cease and desist” and pledges to act affirmatively placed at strategic locations around the district.