Union versus union: Discord divides the small staff representing Pinellas teachers


The Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association says in its mission statement that it promotes solidarity and respect for the profession.

It represents roughly 7,800 teachers, half of whom pay $690 in annual dues. It negotiates fair pay and work conditions, and settles grievances on teachers' behalf — all with the goal of a happier workplace.

But the union's small staff is anything but happy right now, riven by a long-running dispute over pay, working conditions and the management style of PCTA president Mike Gandolfo, a former middle school teacher.

THE GRADEBOOK: All education, all the time

The two-year battle involving Gandolfo and six employees has made its way to the National Labor Relations Board. Some of the employees have even turned to their own separate union for help. And in an effort to let Pinellas County teachers know about the PCTA's internal strife, many of them picketed last month outside a union event that hosted American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten.

"The working conditions are less than fair and equitable," said Beth Premo, a PCTA membership services director who has joined the formal complaints against Galdolfo.

The Pinellas Staff Organization, the union that represents the six PCTA employees, filed a complaint this week with the NLRB listing seven charges. The complaint alleges Gandolfo refused to negotiate an expired contract with the PSO, improperly removed work from the bargaining unit and retaliated against PCTA employees by denying leave for union activities and shifting their workloads.

Four employees who are dues-paying members of the PSO say Gandolfo doesn't treat his employees like the teachers he represents, refusing to bargain in good faith.

"We want to be able to voice our fears and concerns without retaliation," Premo said.

Gandolfo, who ran unopposed in a March election for president and was re-elected, says the PSO is being unreasonable.

"Obviously, these charges are based on lies and they're using it as a negotiating tool because we're in bargaining," he said. "That is a tactic that unions can use. I personally find it without honor, dishonorable, to use that kind of tactic. But they are within their rights to do that."

The PSO is still operating on a contract with the PCTA that expired in 2015. When both groups met at the bargaining table, the PSO employees asked for a 6 percent raise, and Gandolfo obliged.

But the PSO failed to ratify the contract, citing discrepancies and inaccuracies in benefits.

Then, Gandolfo promoted a bookkeeper to a managerial role, moved her out of the PSO's bargaining unit, and gave her a raise, which the PSO alleges was direct dealing and violated the National Labor Relations Act. A complaint was filed with the NLRB in November and was settled Aug. 7, though the case remains open.

The two groups have met at the bargaining table a few times in the past year. Gandolfo says he's given his best offer, though the PSO says he has delayed providing financial documents that help with the bargaining process.

They say that whenever they make an offer, Gandolfo responds saying he must consult first with his own executive board, which the PSO says is another violation of federal labor laws.

Two other PCTA employees who are represented by the PSO but do not pay dues say they side with Gandolfo. Rosemary Geier-Scalzo, a membership services director, said her colleagues' complaints are invalid and described the PSO's moves as bullying.

"This is the stuff that people who are against unions talk about," she said. "Whatever Mike offers them, they will not accept. And that's unacceptable."

Geier-Scalzo said the tension has affected the office's workflow, with much time spent on PSO issues. Tom Lentz, another membership services director on the side of the PSO, says that isn't true.

"We have been continuing to do work on our day-to-day jobs and all of our union work goes on after hours," he said.

Records show another case was opened in 2014 against PCTA for unilaterally modifying a contract, though no further details were available. The Tampa Bay Times has requested records for both cases.

Both sides say they plan to meet back at the bargaining table soon.

"Every time they do the whole process like that, it stalls," Gandolfo said of the PSO. "It's counter-productive, but they've chosen their path. It's the kind of path that leaves scars afterward."

He added: "This is not something you put a Band-Aid over and move on."

Contact Colleen Wright at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.