School board members and the superintendent were united Tuesday night—largely out of confusion, surprise and concern—when a group of four suited-up members of the General Teamsters, Warehousemen and Helpers Union came forward and started talking out of turn.
Before saying much, Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes and board Chairman Shawn Bennion cut the Teamsters off.
“This is a work session—with board discussion only,” Bennion said.
“Who are you fellas?” Trustee Robert Clayton interjected.
The Brotherhood of Teamsters is a labor union group that largely works in the private sector. The General Teamsters is a local affiliation out of Boise. The Teamster members said they were at the meeting to start discussions with the board about School District administrator negotiations.
Twenty-two administrators went to the Teamsters, who usually represent workers in the private sector, because the administrators were concerned about trustees’ discussions over benefits and salaries. Board members have discussed how to address disparities between administrator and teacher compensation packages.
Last April, Trustee Elizabeth Corker noted that teachers’ salaries and benefits were up for negotiation each year and administrators’ compensation was not. To address that, Trustees Corker, Cami Bustos and Carole Freund all voted to start having administrator negotiations in October.
“On April 19, 2016, a motion was made, and seconded by the board to allow this group (administrators) to collectively bargain,” the Teamsters wrote to the school board Aug 2. “We (the General Teamsters) have received authorization by the group, listed on page two, to be considered a collective bargaining unit.”
That list includes Assistant Superintendent John Blackman, who was at the meeting, all eight School District principals, two vice principals and several other administrative positions ranging from human resources manager to director of transportation.
At the meeting, Teamster Business Agent Darel Hardenbrook said allowing administration to have a “negotiation” also allows those administrators to seek out negotiating parties, like the Teamsters.
In response, Corker said she was not a lawyer and didn’t realize the simple word “negotiation” had such legal implications. She said the vote in April was meant to encourage discussions with administrators about their salaries and benefits, not to invite a third party to step in between the board and the administrators.
Back to the beginning
Once the school board gave administrators power to negotiate, Blackman said in an interview, administrators wanted to find negotiators with experience. That group was the Teamsters.
Blake Youde of the State Board of Education said he has never heard of an Idaho school administration group unionizing, suggesting, “Maybe on the East Coast?”
At the meeting, school board members voiced several concerns about negotiations with administrators, noting that they are used to working with people they knew in the teachers union and that they would likely be at a disadvantage negotiating with the Teamsters. The trustees even considered rescinding their April vote.
(In the interview, Blackman stretched out his hand and said he felt that taking back that decision would be “like promising someone something and then,” pulling his hand away, “Psych!”)
Corker said that when she voted for negotiations in April, she was hoping everyone—teachers and administrators—could sit down and figure out some agreement.
Clayton noted that the board would have to compile a lot of hard data to move forward with discussions over administrative negotiations.
“I think we need to be very careful with how we approach this,” he said, noting that at this point, the board is “not on the hook for anything.”
A Teamster’s lawyer raised his hand on several occasions, once trying to point to legal codes requiring certain negotiating parties to be involved.
Trustee Bennion said the code was written for teachers, not administrators.
“So basically, there is no code, and we can do whatever we want until we’re proven differently in court,” he said.
At one point, the Teamsters representatives tried to explain that they were not there for a confrontation.
“Mr. Chairman I don’t think it’s contentious,” Hardenbrook said. “The perceptions of the Teamsters is like, people would have broken kneecaps. That’s not us. That’s from the early ’30s and ’40s.”
The board still didn’t like the situation. Bennion said the board members know the people they bargain with when negotiating with the teachers. As for the Teamsters, Bennion told them, “No offense, I hope to never see you again.”
Blackman said in an interview that administrators are not yet paying union dues, but have organized.
The board discussed having a special executive meeting to discuss the situation further. By state law, there must be 24 hours of public notice to hold a special meeting.
This article was updated Sept. 16 to correct the Trustees who voted to start administrator negotiations in October.