CEDAR RAPIDS — Teachers in the Cedar Rapids school district say the school board and Superintendent Brad Buck are trying to gut their employee contracts.
More than 50 people crowded the board’s meeting Monday, many opposing changes proposed by the district to remove all items but base wages from employee’s contracts and relegate them instead to a district handbook.
People who addressed the board said that would be demoralizing for staff.
“We have bargained in good faith for 40 years. Why stop now?” Hiawatha Elementary teacher Ann Heubner said asked during the public comment session. “In these troubling times in education, this is not what teachers need to worry about. … As one of the largest school districts in this state, we need to be a beacon of hope by the treating of teachers and other staff with dignity and respect by sitting down at the bargaining table with them.”
Under the district’s proposal, items such as an employee’s number of working hours, professional development, evaluation process and other working conditions would no longer be included in contracts.
“I do not understand how stripping our contracts builds a foundation of trust,” Kennedy High teacher Kara Asmussen told the board. “How do we feel safe? These changes do not appear to be collaborative. That is why these people are here.”
The proposed changes are allowed under a controversial measure passed last year by Republicans in control of the Iowa Legislature and governor’s office. They made sweeping changes to Iowa’s collective bargaining law for public employees, including saying that districts were required only to negotiate over base wages. Other workplace matters could be negotiated, but only if both sides agree.
The Iowa State Education Association and many union employees opposed the changes in demonstrations and a lawsuit, which proved futile to stopping the law.
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A representative of the ISEA, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said in an interview the district’s proposed change would stifle teachers’ ability to bargain over their working conditions.
“Basically, moving the contract out into a handbook, that is problematic for several reasons,” ISEA Associate Executive Director Coy Marquardt said. “It really allows the district to unilaterally change things on their own and not converse with the teachers or the association. It doesn’t require them to sit down and have a conversation about it.”
Buck said in an interview that moving permissible items into a handbook would allow more clarity and protections for all district employees — not just those in a union — and make the “process even more inclusive for all staff.”
At Monday’s board meeting, Chris Cronbaugh said that’s tantamount to union busting.
“The superintendent’s stated desire to involve others than union members, the legally representative body for district teachers, and the creation of said handbook is a strategy used across the nation for union destruction,” said Cronbaugh, an associate professor at Kirkwood Community College.
The district initially proposed contract changes at a Jan. 24 meeting with union representatives. Buck said then that he proposed the changes to “establish an equitable experience for all employees across the entire district workforce.”
“I realize that, for some, it is difficult to imagine a school district in which you feel fully valued, listened to, and supported by the building and district administrators with whom you work,” Buck said, according to his statement. “Decades of mistrust discolor our relationship. That is clear. It is clear, too, that with changes in legislation, tremendous work lies ahead for us all. But it is also clear that we share common goals to improve the experiences for all employees.”
Since the law took effect, few school districts in the state have made drastic changes to their contracts, according to the ISEA. Many have two- or three-year contracts and have not had negotiations since the February 2017 changes.
Earlier this month, negotiations between the Iowa City district and its secretary’s union and physical plant and nutrition workers stalled when board members proposed similar modifications to contracts.
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But after the Iowa City secretary’s union objected, the board changed course, saying in a statement that its “intent to protect and preserve prohibited and permissive items was not conveyed clearly.”
“We are now taking active steps to reengage the secretary’s union to ensure all permissive items are retained in the contract,” Iowa City board President Janet Godwin said in a Feb. 10 statement. “We apologize for our error and are working to correct it.”
Speakers at Monday’s Cedar Rapids meeting asked the board to follow Iowa City’s lead.
“That’s one of the concerning pieces about Cedar Rapids,” Marquardt told The Gazette. “It’s a large district in this state, a lot of people want to work there. ... Yet this isn’t sending the right message to a lot of places around the state.”
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