Union term questioned

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Education > Insertion of ‘federation’ alarms trustee

By Tris DeRoma

At some point in the coming school year, the Los Alamos Board of Education, the Los Alamos Public School District and the Los Alamos Federation of School Employees will be sitting down to hammer out some key terms in the most recent Memorandum of Understanding between the district and the union.

Some of the terms came to light during a May school board meeting, where board member Dr. Kevin Honnell asked his fellow board members to table proposed changes to the MOU due mainly to the fact he thought they shouldn’t accept the way the changes were presented to them. That issue was covered in an article in Tuesday’s Los Alamos Monitor.

However, there were specific reasons the board tabled the proposal, primarily because those reasons had to do with certain terms the union wanted to substitute when it came to referring to specific employees. 

In one example, the union wanted to take out the word “certified employee” and put in the word “federation,” a term that Honnell was alarmed by.

“...The main change that Gerry Washburn (human resources coordinator for the district) pointed out is that while the current language says that certified employees shall be invited to these decisions on educational objectives, curriculum and materials, now it’s the federation that shall be invited. Instead of having teachers there, we’re going to have the union there,” Honnell said at the meeting. “Now, you might argue that the teachers and the union are one and the same, but the change in language connotes a different hat that people would be wearing.”

Honnell went further to explain what he meant. 

“We want to have the teachers involved in setting our educational objectives, we want to have teachers involved in defining our courses and curriculum, selecting the textbooks and all of that. That’ just makes sense, it’s what our community told us to do,” he said. “But now, we’re telling them that you aren’t going to be there as a teacher, you’re going to be there in the capacity of a union representative. I don’t see how that change of hats serves our children’s education needs, and I’m not sure if you happen to be represented by the union but you aren’t a member, if you’re going to be invited to participate.”

According to Washburn, there wasn’t any kind of bad intent with the language change; they were just trying to come up with a more generic term to cut out some confusion in the MOU. 

“Our intent was because the federation was the negotiating body for all school employees, instead of saying sometimes ‘school employees’, and other times ‘teachers’, we were trying to get the language clear,” said Washburn. “When we said ‘federation’ it meant all employees represented by the union. 

Washburn added the issue will be resolved soon. 

“After that meeting and the discussions afterward it was clear to everyone that we needed to revisit that thinking.”