Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation of Teachers, appeared to make a concession June 8 – the last day of negotiations – on the important issue of dues collection by the Douglas County School District on behalf of the union.
These are the periodic renegotiation of the DCFT contract, which the district has taken as an opportunity to redefine its relationship with the union, with potential implications for school districts statewide.
Here’s some of what Smith said…
“I feel as if there has been viewpoint discrimination this year, based on the fact that it was granted to one group, which was the ATU – bus drivers and mechanics – and it’s not being granted, or it’s not being offered, or it’s being taken away – whatever word you want to use – from the Douglas County Federation of Classified Employees, and they were told basically that because they are part of AFT is the reason why it’s happening. And also from the teachers, and I feel like that’s viewpoint discrimination.
“I think this is a sad place, of where we are. But once again, we are not going to hold up a process based on these two things. And what I heard very clearly from [School Board] President Carson on Tuesday night, that he has – those are his big concerns. And we’re not willing to hold up that process, but we also are going to reserve the right to take legal action outside of this if we so feel it necessary. Based on the fact that we do feel like it’s viewpoint discrimination based from the DCF’s position.”
(Video courtesy of Parent Led Reform.)
The meeting adjourned with the District’s negotiators taking back the areas of agreement to the full Board for its response. The Board also noticed that the union was keeping the door open for legal action, and in its response, noted that, “These statements about taking legal action on contract items to which DCFT has ‘agreed’ indicate that there really is no agreement on these items.”
It looks to us as though the union, rather than openly threatening legal action, may be waiting to see the results of a similar federal case on appeal arising from Wisconsin’s laws of last year. Certainly their rhetoric is set up to draw a parallel between their situation and the basis of the federal district court’s recent favorable ruling. They’ll capitulate if they have to, but they clearly aren’t sure that they’ll have to, and may be trying to preserve the appearance of flexibility, in order to bolster their claim that it’s the Board that has poisoned the atmosphere between teachers and the district.
There’s good reason for DCFT officials such as President Brenda Smith and Treasurer Julie Weatherman to be concerned. The Wisconsin AFT affiliate saw their membership decline by over a third after district dues collection was stopped. While I’m not as quick to declare victory as some, I do think that the union understands that it’s negotiating from a position of weakness.
After all, it doesn’t (only) take Julie Weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.