Clock runs out on union’s agreement with schools

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When Douglas County teachers got their first union contract, Lyndon Johnson was president, the Ford Mustang was in its first year of production, and the first Super Bowl was two years in the future.

The era that began in 1965 and stretched unbroken for 47 years came to an end at midnight June 30. Despite a long list of concessions, more than 100 hours of negotiations, and an 11th-hour attempt by the union to salvage a deal, the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement expired.

When teachers return to school, they may be operating according to a handbook that is currently in draft format.

That makes some of them nervous.

“There’s great concern about the handbook,” said Brenda Smith, president of the Douglas County Federation, the teachers’ union that grew out of the Colorado Education Association in 1972. “Teachers had no input into the handbook at all. A handbook is a draft, and it’s always a draft because it can change anytime. You can write something one day and change it the next.”

Earlier, in response to a question about whether the draft handbook would be presented to the school board for final approval, district spokesman Randy Barber wrote that there were no plans to do so.

“The majority of the handbook’s contents are comprised of policies and procedures that were already being used by the district,” he wrote.

The district plans no major changes in its relationship with teachers, he said.

“DCSD will not dramatically change the way that we work with our professionals,” Barber wrote. “In fact, moving forward our goal remains the same as it had been in negotiations to improve their quality of life.”

Most teachers already have signed individual contracts, but the collective bargaining agreement is an umbrella contract for all that establishes working conditions, compensation, training, grievance procedures, and other terms of employment.

The first negotiated agreement between the district and its teachers was formed through the Colorado Education Association in the mid-1960s – as early as 1965 and perhaps earlier, according to former DCF president Jim McKay.

The Douglas County Federation of Teachers formed in 1972. In 1977, McKay helped negotiate its first collective bargaining agreement with the district.

The union and district started negotiating the 2012-13 agreement last fall, a process that ended June 28 when both sides left the table without reaching consensus. District negotiations team members said the board will consider the union’s wishes and the collective bargaining agreement, most likely at their next scheduled meeting July 17. That’s more than two weeks past the agreement’s expiration, and the union has little hope the board will approve their proposal.

“People are nervous that they’re losing a collective bargaining agreement,” Smith said. “We’re getting a lot of questions. They want to be able to be in the classroom teaching their kids. It’s not something they want to be worrying about.”