Vancouver Public Schools will file an unfair labor practice claim against its support staff union pending the results of mediation scheduled on Tuesday, alleging that the union is engaging in “regressive bargaining.”
The announcement is the latest twist in ongoing negotiations between the district and the Vancouver Association of Educational Support Professionals, which represents paraeducators, secretaries, clerks and other classified staff.
The district and union announced they had reached a tentative agreement on Dec. 21, 2018, after months of bargaining. But last week, VAESP told its members that the district canceled that agreement. The district denies having done so and has now flipped the accusation onto the union, saying its leadership are the ones who withdrew from the tentative agreement.
Both sides are at odds over whether they’d agreed that the tentative agreement included state cost-of-living adjustment increases. VAESP leadership say total salary improvements must be given on top of state-approved 1.9 percent inflationary salary increases.
VPS said that was never the agreement, and said Monday that a state mediator confirmed last week that VAESP knew the negotiated salary improvements included the state cost-of-living increase. District spokeswoman Pat Nuzzo said the Vancouver Education Association’s recently approved contract with the district also included the state cost-of-living adjustment.
According to the district, the tentative agreement included a 10.2 percent salary increase on average from the 2017-2018 school year to the 2018-2019 school year. Next year, the tentative agreement provided members with another 2 percent salary increase.
Between salary increases and benefit contributions, the contract is expected to cost the district an additional $3 million over two years.
District expenditures are expected to total about $324 million this school year, according to budget documents filed with the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Salaries for classified staff, including VAESP members, make up about $56.2 million of that.
Lynn Davidson with the regional office of the Washington Education Association and lead spokeswoman for VAESP called the district’s announcement a scare tactic.
“More power to them,” Davidson said. “They’re not going to prevail.”
She also questioned whether it was appropriate for the district to report on the mediator’s comments. She again disputed that union leadership had agreed to include state cost-of-living adjustments in the tentative agreement.
“All the signed (tentative agreements) show we didn’t agree to that,” she said.
VAESP members are paid between $16.53 an hour and $25.32 an hour, depending on their position and years of experience, according to its salary schedule. Many are paid for six hours of work per day, nine months out of the year. Union leadership estimates the average VAESP member’s salary is about $20,000 a year.
According to the Public Employment Relations Commission, which oversees public-sector labor relations in Washington, an unfair labor practice hearing is “similar to a trial before a judge.” Complaints deemed to fall under the commission’s authority will go to a hearings examiner, who will hear evidence from the union and district.
The examiner typically issues a decision about 90 days following that hearing, according to the commission’s website. If a violation is found, the commission will step in to “remedy” the situation, whatever that takes, executive director Mike Sellars said. In this case, for example, if the examiner sides with the district, the commission may direct VAESP to take the tentative agreement to a ratification vote.
The union and district will meet Tuesday, and the union will have a general membership meeting that evening. Union members previously voted to take a strike vote if no deal is reached by Feb. 1.