Re: Information or Poor Bargaining Practice?
Having investigated the laws cited in the complaint against Bill Felkner, I’m reasonably confident that I’m either missing something or somebody else is misstating something. In his Westerly Sun article (subscription required), Chris Keegan wrote the following (emphasis added):
In a letter to the Rhode Island State Labor Relations Board filed on Thursday, Peter Gingras accused Felkner of circumventing negotiations between the committee and NEA Chariho Educational Support Professionals — the union representing 166 support staffers employed by the tri-town school district. Gingras’ two-page complaint centers on Felkner’s public communications through his Internet blog — the Chariho School Parent’s Forum (cspf.wordpress.com) — and names the Chariho Regional School District as a party to the labor grievance.
However, the the textual explanation of the complaint doesn’t refer to the blog:
On or about September 14, 2007, and on dates thereafter, an agent of the Chariho Regional School District has purposely attempted to communicate directly with bargaining unit members represented by the union.
The purpose of these communications was to discourage union membership and is tantamount to a refusal to bargain with the certified representative of the union.
If the blog is the “communication,” then it’s a bit of a stretch to call it “direct.” Indeed, the first two subsections of the unfair labor practices law cited by the complaint are plainly inapplicable to blogs, and the third — a legal catch-all — is still (again) a stretch:
(5) Encourage membership in any company union or discourage membership in any labor organization, by discrimination in regard to hire or tenure or in any term or condition of employment; provided that nothing in this chapter precludes an employer from making an agreement with a labor organization requiring membership in that labor organization as a condition of employment, if that labor organization is the representative of employees as provided in §§ 28-7-14 – 28-7-19.
(6) Refuse to bargain collectively with the representatives of employees, subject to the provisions of §§ 28-7-14 – 28-7-19, except that the refusal to bargain collectively with any representative is not, unless a certification with respect to the representative is in effect under §§ 28-7-14 – 28-7-19, an unfair labor practice in any case where any other representative, other than a company union, has made a claim that it represents a majority of the employees in a conflicting bargaining unit. …
(10) Do any acts, other than those already enumerated in this section, which interfere with, restrain or coerce employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed by § 28-7-12.
The only way in which Felkner’s blog violated 28-7-12 is if there was “coercion,” and a quick perusal of the blog posts around the time of the complaint didn’t reveal anything that could reasonably be interpreted thus. (Unless the behavior and demands of teachers’ unions is so egregious that merely pointing them out could be seen as an effort to persuade upright teachers to cancel their membership.)
I’ve sent Keegan an email asking what led him to call the blog central to the complaint, but for the time being, I’m not sure there hasn’t been a misunderstanding somewhere along the line.
Mr. Keegan has confirmed that the reference to Felkner’s blog came from Peter Gringas, during a telephone interview.