Teachers at Lehman will extend contract

LEHMAN TWP. – With yet another year remaining on their contract, teachers in the Lake-Lehman School District voted Saturday to extend it for two more years, a union representative said.

The contract runs until Aug. 31, 2015, with the extension, said John Holland, the regional field director for the Pennsylvania State Education Association.

He declined to discuss the vote and the contract terms at this time, saying he would talk about it once union members have everything in hand. After three years of negotiations the union approved a seven-year contract in July 2009.

Explaining the reason for the extension, he said, “The board and the association looked at what’s in the best interest of the district, the community, the students and the staff.”

The agreement appears to have smoothed out some differences between the union and the district over its decision to leave the Northeast Pennsylvania School District Health Trust. It was formed in 1999 by a number of districts to reduce health insurance rates.

In accordance with the one-year notice of withdrawal, the district informed the trust it would withdraw after June 20, 2013, the end of the next fiscal year. In the interim, the district will use the dental and vision coverage offered through the trust, but go to a broker for medical and prescription coverage as a way to save money.

The trust responded with a lawsuit against the district.

The union also responded by filing a grievance, an unfair labor practice and an application for a court-issued preliminary injunction. Its position was the withdrawal from the trust violated the union contract, the public employee relations act and the trust agreement. Furthermore, the union said, it has to be consulted and must approve any change in insurance coverage.

A hearing was scheduled for Monday in Luzerne County Court on the injunction sought by the Lake-Lehman Education Association and the Lake-Lehman Educational Support Personnel Association to prevent the district from leaving the trust.

“The injunction is still pending,” said Holland. But because there has been an agreement on the contract extension, he added, the union in the near future will request “dissolving the injunction.”

via Teachers at Lehman will extend contract.

Welcome to Workday Minnesota, your leading source for labor news!

ST. PAUL – The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis is moving forward with plans to dissolve the bargaining unit of workers at its official newspaper, The Catholic Spirit, when their current collective bargaining agreement expires at the end of this month.

In an overhaul intended “to create a more integrated communications function,” the Archdiocesan Office of Communications will absorb The Catholic Spirit and some of its 13 workers, but not their union contract.

The Catholic Spirit is the award-winning official publication of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. In meetings with lawyers for the archdiocese last month, Catholic Spirit workers, represented by the Minnesota Newspaper Guild, requested the archdiocese voluntarily continue to recognize their bargaining unit within the expanded communications office. The archdiocese denied that request, prompting Guild members to send a letter to Archbishop John Nienstedt seeking clarification.

“The only reason we were given for the unit disappearing so far is that the Guild unit does not fit within the central corporation’s needs,” said Chris Pierskalla, chair of the Guild’s Catholic Spirit bargaining unit. “That hasn’t been expounded upon.”

The Guild is asking supporters to contact Archbishop Nienstedt and ask him to respect The Catholic Spirit workers’ request to keep their union. To reach the archbishop, call (651) 291-4511, or fill out the e-mail form on the archbishop’s website.

The Guild has represented workers at The Catholic Spirit since 1965. Prior to the communications overhaul, the bi-weekly newspaper, with a circulation of 82,000, operated “not independently, but with autonomy” from the archdiocese, Pierskalla said. The archbishop served as publisher, but the newspaper “operates basically at the direction of the associate publisher and his staff.”

The arrangement has fostered award-winning results. The Catholic Spirit and its staff members have collected several awards from the Catholic Press Association, including first place in the General Excellence category in 2009.

It remains unclear how the newspaper will fit into the archdiocese’s new communications strategy – and how the transition will affect The Catholic Spirit’s 13 workers. Guild members, Pierskalla said, are feeling uncertain about their wages, benefits and job security.

“We’ve had two meetings, and we still don’t know what the transition plan is,” he said. “Jobs aren’t necessarily going to move over the way they are now. We know they are not moving the newspaper as it is over there; they are changing. But as of yet we don’t know what the changes are.”

In a statement released Thursday, the archdiocese confirmed plans to continue publishing on a bi-monthly schedule, but acknowledged that some Guild members will lose their jobs at the end of the month due to “overlap in functions.” For workers absorbed into the office of communications, their Guild contract will be replaced by a non-negotiable employment agreement called “Justice in Employment.”

According to the archdiocese’s release: “This employment agreement, which has been in place in the Archdiocese since 1999, provides a number of features that provide extensive protections for employees. In addition, the Archdiocese provides an Office of Conciliation to assist employees in protecting their rights afforded under the ‘Justice in Employment’ agreement.”

Pierskalla and other workers say they would prefer to keep their collective-bargaining rights.

“I would like to stay within the unit,” Pierskalla said. “I would like to have collective bargaining. If this were to be lost, what I would miss most are those opportunities to be treated like a peer at the table. Not to assume immediately that I won’t be treated that way by management going forward, but it’s an unknown right now.”

As a religious entity, the archdiocese appears to be on firm legal footing in dissolving the Catholic Spirit bargaining unit. But workers say the archdiocese, in refusing their request for voluntary recognition, ignores Catholic doctrine supporting their right to union representation.

In their letter to Nienstedt, workers cited the writings of Pope John Paul II. The letter states: “Laborem Exercens, under The Importance of Unions, No. 20, states: ‘All these rights, together with the need for the workers themselves to secure them, give rise to yet another right: the right of association, that is to form associations for the purpose of defending the vital interest of those employed in the various professions.’”

via Welcome to Workday Minnesota, your leading source for labor news!.

Fredericksburg.com – Public-sector unions have met their Waterloo

WASHINGTON

–Tuesday, June 5, 2012, will be remembered as the beginning of the long decline of the public-sector union. It will follow, and parallel, the shrinking of private-sector unions, now down to less than 7 percent of American workers. The abject failure of the unions to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker–the first such failure in U.S. history–marks the Icarus moment of government-union power. Wax wings melted, there’s nowhere to go but down.

The ultimate significance of Walker’s union reforms has been largely misunderstood. At first, the issue was curtailing outrageous union benefits, far beyond those of the ordinary Wisconsin taxpayer. That became a non-issue when the unions quickly realized that trying to defend the indefensible would render them toxic for the real fight to come.

So they made the fight about the “right” to collective bargaining, which the reforms severely curtailed. In a state as historically progressive as Wisconsin–in 1959, it was the first to legalize the government-worker union–they thought they could win as a matter of ideological fealty.

But as the recall campaign progressed, the Democrats stopped talking about bargaining rights. It was a losing issue. Walker was able to make the case that years of corrupt union-politician back-scratching had been bankrupting the state. And he had just enough time to demonstrate the beneficial effects of overturning that arrangement: a huge budget deficit closed without raising taxes, significant school-district savings from ending cozy insider health-insurance contracts, and a modest growth in jobs.

But the real threat behind all this was that the new law ended automatic government collection of union dues. That was the unexpressed and politically inexpressible issue. Without the thumb of the state tilting the scale by coerced collection, union membership became truly voluntary. Result? Newly freed members rushed for the exits. In less than one year, AFSCME, the second largest public-sector union in Wisconsin, has lost more than 50 percent of its membership.

It was predictable. In Indiana, where Gov. Mitch Daniels instituted by executive order a similar reform seven years ago, government-worker unions have since lost 91 percent of their dues-paying membership. In Wisconsin, Democratic and union bosses (a redundancy) understood what was at stake if Walker prevailed: not benefits, not “rights,” but the very existence of the unions.

So they fought and they lost. Repeatedly. Tuesday was their third and last shot at reversing Walker’s reforms. In April 2011, they ran a candidate for chief justice of the state Supreme Court who was widely expected to strike down the law. She lost.

In July and August 2011, they ran recall elections of state senators, needing three to reclaim Democratic–i.e., union–control. They failed. (The likely flipping of one Senate seat to the Democrats on June 5 is insignificant. The Senate is not in session and won’t be until after yet another round of elections in November.)

And then, Tuesday, their Waterloo. Walker defeated their gubernatorial candidate by a wider margin than he had two years ago.

The unions’ defeat marks a historical inflection point. They set out to make an example of Walker. He succeeded in making an example of them as a classic case of reactionary liberalism. An institution founded to protect its members grew in size, wealth, power, and arrogance. A half-century later these unions were exercising essential control of everything from wages to work rules in the running of government–something that, in a system of republican governance, is properly the sovereign province of the citizenry.

Why did the unions lose? Because Norma Rae nostalgia is not enough, and it hardly applied to government workers living better than the average taxpayer who supports them.

And because of the rise of a new constitutional conservatism–committed to limited government and a more robust civil society–of the kind that swept away Democrats in the 2010 midterm shellacking.

Most important, however, because in the end reality prevails. As economist Herb Stein once put it: Something that can’t go on, won’t. These public-sector unions, acting, as FDR had feared, with an inherent conflict of interest regarding their own duties, were devouring the institution they were supposed to serve, rendering state government as economically unsustainable as the collapsing entitlement states of southern Europe.

It couldn’t go on. Now it won’t. All that was missing was a political leader willing to risk his career to make it stop. Because, time being infinite, even the inevitable doesn’t happen on its own.

Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.

via Fredericksburg.com – Public-sector unions have met their Waterloo.

Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero: Knoxville voters should support proposed pension reform plan » Knoxville News Sentinel

Six months ago today I was sworn in as Mayor of Knoxville. One of the first challenges my administration faced was dealing with a major unfunded liability in the city employees’ pension plan.

Most simply, this unfunded liability was the result of substantial investment losses in 2008 and previous costly enhancements to the plan.

During my campaign for mayor, I promised to tackle this issue by reducing pension costs and market risk for taxpayers while maintaining competitive benefits in order to recruit and retain qualified and experienced police officers, firefighters, and general government workers.

We accomplished this goal with a hybrid pension plan that I proposed and City Council adjusted before voting this week to send it to the Pension Board for review. \

This plan was arrived at through months of often difficult discussions with City Council, city employee groups and the public. I am grateful to all of them for coming to the table and recognizing the importance of dealing with this issue for the long-term health of our city. In particular, I would like to thank Vice Mayor Nick Pavlis for his leadership in guiding the process through City Council.

For future employees, the hybrid plan will:

n Move the city from the current defined-benefit plan, in which the city assumes all the risk of market performance to pay for plan benefits, to a hybrid in which the risk is shared evenly between the city and its employees.

n Raise retirement ages.

n Double the pension vesting period from five years to 10 years, which means an employee will have to work for the city for a decade before becoming eligible for pension benefits.

n Control cost-of-living increases by tying them to the Consumer Price Index and capping them at a maximum of 3 percent.

After the Pension Board’s review, the plan will come back to City Council to be placed on the ballot this November. If it is approved by voters, it will take effect for all new employees beginning in 2013, and put the pension plan on the path toward long-term sustainability.

Regardless, in the near term, the city is expected to face yearly obligations of tens of millions of dollars to pay for benefits promised to retirees and current city employees under the existing plans.

These pension obligations were proposed by past mayors, supported by past City Councils and approved by Knoxville voters. Several major enhancements were added by referendum as recently as 2000.

The Tennessee Supreme Court and recent state Attorney General opinions have made clear that benefits earned by vested employees cannot be reduced. We will have to make tough choices in coming years, but we will make good on our commitments to our retirees and our employees.

In Knoxville, we employ about 1,600 men and women who patrol our streets, respond to emergencies, pave our roads, build our sidewalks, pick up our waste, maintain our parks and greenways, and in many other ways safeguard our quality of life. These are difficult jobs often performed under very difficult circumstances.

A great number of these jobs require significant training investments. The Knoxville Police Department estimates that it spends about $100,000 to recruit and train a new officer. The Fire Department estimates those same costs at about $50,000. As we reduce city costs, it’s imperative that we continue to offer a pension plan that results in the retention of highly-trained, experienced personnel.

The proposed reduction in our pension system strikes the right balance. It significantly reduces future costs and protects taxpayers. It also ensures that our city has dedicated, well trained, and fairly compensated employees to provide the great service that Knoxville residents expect.

Failure to act this year on pension reform will continue to add employees to the current, unsustainable plan for at least two more years — the next opportunity for a referendum.

We must act now. I urge all Knoxvillians to support this pension reform.

via Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero: Knoxville voters should support proposed pension reform plan » Knoxville News Sentinel.

chapelhillnews.com | New principal named for Orange High School

HILLSBOROUGH – Orange High has a new principal, even as the old one fights to get his old job back.

Jason Johnson, the principal of Gravelly Middle School from 2006-11, will replace Armond Hankins, who filed a grievance Tuesday over his May 14 demotion to assistant principal at an as yet unnamed school. Hankins had previously said he did not plan to accept the demotion.

Johnson formerly served as an assistant principal at A. L. Stanback Middle School from 2001-04. Most recently, he has been working with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction as a school transformation coach, where he worked with school principals across the state to improve student achievement and learning environments.

“Orange High School is known for excellence throughout the state of North Carolina and I am looking forward to helping build upon the school’s extraordinary reputation,” Johnson said in the Orange County Schools news release.

Johnson was the 2009-2010 Principal of the Year for Orange County. He is currently pursuing his doctorate in educational leadership at UNC-Greensboro.

“He is a proven leader, with a strong history of improving academic success by increasing expectations for students and staff members alike,” Superintendent Patrick Rhodes said in the release. “We are confident that he will be able to take Orange High School to even higher levels of success.”

Johnson was a computer skills and business teacher in Chatham and Guilford county schools before joining A. L. Stanback Middle School as an assistant principal. He served as a principal with Guilford County Schools from 2004-2006.

A group of parents and others have signed an on online petition supporting Hankins and suggesting race was a factor in his demotion, after the departure of other black administrators in recent years. The school board has said race was not a factor in the decision. Johnson and Hankins are both African American.

There is no mention of race in Hankins’ written response Tuesday to the evaluation that led to his demotion – a response addressed to Rhodes that concludes with the filing of his grievance.

In his response, Hankins addresses communication and procedural issues cited in the evaluation, among other items. He maintains that issues and complaints during his two-year tenure were relatively few compared to other principals.

“I believe from the information I have received that complaints are down specifically from the mid-year point to the final review,” Hankins writes. “I further believe that a comparison of issues/complaints during my period as principal in comparison to other principals, would find mine to be lower.”

Hankins lists academic and overall achievements at Orange High School during his two-year tenure, including higher SAT scores, designation as a School of Distinction with High Growth and 76.8 percent fewer suspensions.

In closing with the formal filing of his grievance, Hankins’ response notes that his demotion will reduce his pay by more than $2,300 monthly. According to the school district’s grievance policy, adversely affected terms or conditions of employment are among the allegations that a grievance may include.

The grievance process includes a meeting, investigation and finally a written response within approximately two weeks of the filing. The employee filing the grievance may appeal the final decision to the school board.

via chapelhillnews.com | New principal named for Orange High School.

Previous fire chief was subject of insubordination charges – The Grand Island Independent : Local News: grand island fire department, city of grand island, troy hughes, jay vavricek, mary lou brown

Division Chief Fred Hotz isn’t the only Grand Island firefighter to face insubordination charges under the current administration.

Former Fire Chief Troy Hughes, who resigned last October, said he had several verbal warnings and two insubordination charges from Mayor Jay Vavricek and City Administrator Mary Lou Brown in the 11 months he worked for them.

“It wasn’t an environment that was open and honest,” said Hughes, who is now fire chief in Los Alamos, N.M.

Hughes served the Grand Island Fire Department for 26 years, including 13 years as a fire administrator and about three years as fire chief.

“I was disciplined twice for insubordination,” Hughes told The Independent this week.

One charge came shortly after Vavricek’s term started on Dec. 7, 2010, when Hughes released the Fire Department’s annual report prior to the mayor or Brown clearing it.

“My biggest difficulty with the administration is they wanted to put their take or their spin on everything that went out,” Hughes said. “There wasn’t really the opportunity to communicate freely and truthfully with the council.”

The second insubordination charge came when Hughes was preparing the department’s budget. To reach the targets the administration had given him, Hughes said, he would have to make cuts. He was charged with insubordination for discussing possible cuts with firefighters without having clearance from the administration.

“That made it difficult to really do your job as chief — to give the true story as you see it,” Hughes said. “If somehow your perspective did get out there unedited or uncensored, then you were charged with insubordination.”

Hughes said he was also verbally reprimanded for allowing pictures of firefighters to be taken for an appreciation ad. He was questioned about whether a city camera was used and who took the photos.

Even the department’s community involvement came under fire.

“We got scolded for helping with Mission of Mercy,” a free dental clinic, Hughes said. “There were people who were off duty and who had volunteered their time.”

Hughes walked through the area to inspect the clinic and talk with volunteers. He was reprimanded for doing something that wasn’t his job duty, he said.

“I did end up taking vacation so that I could go out and check on our volunteers out there,” he said.

Hughes said the difficult workplace started when City Administrator Jeff Pederson left.

Pederson left as Mayor Margaret Hornady completed her term in December 2010. Vavricek appointed Brown, who was then finance director, as interim city administrator and promoted her to that job in March 2011.

“It’s really disappointing,” Vavricek said of Hughes’ comments. “I would have expected better leadership from a department director.”  read more…

via Previous fire chief was subject of insubordination charges – The Grand Island Independent : Local News: grand island fire department, city of grand island, troy hughes, jay vavricek, mary lou brown.