Teachers union fights against pay cut

Union 'will take whatever action is necessary'

The Manatee (FL) school district and the teachers union could be headed for a legal battle over plans to cut teacher pay by 1 percent. The pay cut proposal is part of a district plan to trim $21.4 million from its annual budget, a move prompted by reductions in state funding. Officials plan to make the cut by forcing teachers to take two unpaid days off next year.

But the Manatee Education Association, which bargains on behalf of 2,700 Manatee teachers and assistants, has refused to begin salary talks with the district. Union leaders said the district had not exhausted all other options for making savings.

Some of the dispute is over technical language and procedure.

In early May, district officials declared that the 14-day window that state law allows for bargaining in times of "financial urgency" had started. The window expired this week without any talks. If the two sides cannot reach agreement after that time, an impasse is declared and a mediator or special magistrate could intervene, according to state law.

But union leaders dispute that the district has the right to unilaterally impose the 14-day deadline. In a letter sent to the district Wednesday, union leaders said they would go into talks only as part of the normal annual bargaining process.

"We do not believe they can enforce the shortened bargaining time line," said MEA President Pat Barber. "Should they declare impasse, we'll take whatever action is necessary to protect our members' bargaining rights."

That could include filing a complaint alleging an unfair labor practice with the state Public Employees Relations Commission.

But the union faces the same threat from the district, which could file a complaint against the union for refusing to begin collective bargaining, said School Board attorney John Bowen.

"We're willing to keep negotiating but at this point, statutorily, we are at impasse," Bowen said. "I can't see how anyone can look at the financial situation we have faced this past year, and face now on top of that, and say we're not in financial urgency."

District officials already have a tentative agreement with the local American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to cut 1 percent from the salaries of 1,000 support staff, including bus drivers and custodians.

The School Board on Wednesday night voted to approve a 1 percent cut for supervisors, and administrative and managerial and clerical staff.

Barber maintains district officials have been too quick to view pay cuts as the answer to their budget woes, saying, "I think it would be appropriate for the administration to look at other things before taking an ax to the salary schedule."


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