By TIM ROWDEN
AFT St. Louis, Local 420, the union that represents St. Louis Public School teachers and school related personnel, is pushing back against major changes in labor/management relations in the city schools and what Local 420 President Sally Topping describes as blatant attempts by management to intimidate employees and deny their right to fair and equitable salaries and treatment.
Topping said the district is attempting to intimidate employees and the union over the filing of a grievance based on wide salary discrepancies and disparities in the district.
In a press conference outside Herzog Elementary School Aug. 6, Topping provided two examples of actual teachers’ wage disparities in the district:
• Employee “A” – a middle school mathematics teacher, is a certificated teacher with a bachelor’s degree and two years of employment with a salary of $50,653.18
• Employee “B” – another middle school mathematics teacher, is a certificated teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 16 years of employment with a salary of $46,402.02.
“Employee B has 14 years more experience, but makes $4,251.16 less,” Topping said.
Topping said discrepancies like this may affect as many as 1,000 employees in the bargaining unit.
The union asked the district to explain the discrepancies last fall but was ignored by the school district. In February, the union filed two grievances, one for certified teachers and another for non-certified personnel. The district denied the grievances
A binding arbitration hearing is set for Aug. 29.
DISTRICT SAYS IT CAN EXPLAIN, INSTEAD
RESPONDS WITH THREATS, INTIMIDATION
The district met with Local 420 last month in what they said was an attempt to settle the grievances before arbitration. The district administrators said they could explain the salary disparities, but only if the union dismissed the grievances.
The district then “suggested” that Topping and two other union staff members who are “on leave” from the district might need to return to the classroom, even though Local 420’s contract with the district allows for the release of up to 10 district employees for union duties each year.
For at least 16 years, St. Louis Public School (SLPS) employees have been placed on paid leave from the district while working for the union, allowing them to continue receiving health insurance and pension contributions, with the union reimbursing the cost of their wages and benefits to the district.
After Local 420 refused to dismiss the grievances, the district demanded all unpaid reimbursements to be paid to the district or the status of Topping and two other union staffers would be converted to unpaid leave, placing their family health insurance, pension contributions and financial security in jeopardy.
Despite the threat –– a move that Topping said the district’s out of touch management viewed as punishment –– she and the union held firm.
She and two other union staffers went back to the classroom recently.
Topping responded to the district by asking to be assigned to a first-grade classroom if any were available.
“If SLPS believes that we will put our personal comfort before our members’ welfare, they have made a critical miscalculation,” Topping said in a letter to members.
“Be assured, we will be continuing with these grievances with renewed vigor and dedication…. We will be in the classroom by day, but you can be assured we will be continuing to work (on members’ behalf) in every free hour we have when we are not in school. I hope SLPS administrators like working evenings!”
PARTNERSHIP IN JEOPARDY
At the Aug. 6 news conference, Topping said:
“We have had a successful partnership between employees and management that has led to good outcomes for children in the St. Louis Public Schools –– regaining accreditation, the peer mentoring program –– the St. Louis Plan, expansion of Early Childhood Education, forgoing raises for years to aid district finances and working together to pass Proposition 1, the first tax increase for schools in 25 years,” Topping said.
“U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan praised this remarkable partnership,” Topping added. “I hate to say it, but that partnership is in jeopardy over serious salary disparities and a lack of a coherent salary schedule.”
Topping then said, “I have to go and get into the classroom before the bell rings,” and walked into the school building.