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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Pasco district, union officials seek to clarify furlough repayment concerns

The Pasco school district and the United School Employees of Pasco have been inundated with calls and questions since Tuesday's announcement that employees would be reimbursed for one unpaid furlough day, but only if they ratify their pending 2011-12 contract.

A top query: If the contract isn't ratified, wouldn't everyone get repaid for the two furlough days rather than one? After all, the unpaid days were part of the tentative agreement as much as the Memorandum of Understanding to repay everyone if more money was found.

District and USEP officials are trying to explain that it's not that simple.

If the contract fails, the entire package -- furlough days, health insurance benefits, evaluation terms included -- would go back to the bargaining table. The furlough days might not get renegotiated, but in order to keep spending cuts intact, other items such as lower insurance premiums also might not come back. Things like pay cuts, currently under consideration in other districts such as Monroe, might arise in the conversations to keep the budget balanced, too.

The district also could argue that because the employees did not work the two furlough days, they are not entitled to repayment regardless. But if the contract is approved and more money found, if the district did not make repayment, teachers could file a grievance under terms of the contract that wouldn't exist if ratification fails.

The USEP sent out the following memo to try to clarify the situation, as talk mounts against contract ratification. We'll keep following this situation as it unfolds.

Memo from the USEP, sent 5/9/2012

Why does the Contract Need to Be Ratified to Repay the Furlough Day?

The basic answer is that right now it’s a tentative agreement that cannot be enforced or made part of the contract until it is ratified.

The tentative agreement reached back in August included language to deduct two furlough days with the possibility of repayment if additional savings were realized.  It also included having the School Board pick up the additional health insurance costs, refingerprinting fees, and maintain dependent insurance premiums at last year’s rates.  Here’s the kicker: it’s a tentative agreement until it is ratified and incorporated into the master contract. 

Once the tentative agreement is part of the contract, the provisions such as reimbursing employees for the furlough day can be pursued and enforced through the grievance procedure, which includes binding arbitration.  As it happens, the District, in a show of good faith, agreed with USEP’s assertion that there was enough insurance savings to reimburse one furlough day.  If they hadn’t, and the contract was ratified, USEP still could have pursued the reimbursement through the grievance process.  Without ratification; there is no access to an objective arbitrator.

What happens if it’s not ratified?  The entire contract would go back to the table and the District would “technically” maintain the conditions from last year until a new tentative agreement is reached or the parties go through impasse.  It does not mean that the District would automatically refund the two furlough days; after all, teachers and SRP did not work on those days.  This would be one of the first issues the negotiation teams would face, and it is unchartered grounds. Another key issue would be whether the Board should try to recoup the extra $174 it already paid toward increased health insurance costs.  The new agreement might or might not include furlough days, but the District would still need to address the furlough costs that helped offset the $50+ million shortfall for the 2011-12 year. That could mean making changes in other areas of the agreement like passing on insurance costs, cutting salaries, reducing work calendars, etc.

Because the District is still facing a shortfall for the 2012-2013 year, the sides would probably go to impasse.  At impasse, a Special Magistrate is called in to hear both sides and makes a recommendation to the School Board.  The School Board then can accept or reject the recommendation.  In the vast majority of impasse hearings, school boards have rejected recommendations that favor unions.  

The USEP bargaining teams made a strategic decision to agree to furlough days while maintaining the ability to pursue reimbursement through binding arbitration.  The alternative would have been going to impasse and most likely losing any possibility of reimbursement.  As it stands, the employees are being reimbursed without having to make up the time.  That is why the USEP Executive Board and Representative Council are recommending ratification.

[Last modified: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 10:57am]


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