Content

Overseas Bargaining Update #5

FACE-TO-FACE SESSION CONCLUDES, MOST CONTENTIOUS ISSUES STILL REMAIN

posted October 23, 2019

FEA members, last week, concluded six weeks of face-to-face bargaining with DoDEA management on a new negotiated agreement for the Overseas bargaining unit and now return home to continue with virtual bargaining through the remainder of 2019.

FEA wishes to thank the following members for spending the past six weeks away from their families and their students in order to represent all Overseas bargaining unit members in Washington DC at the bargaining table:

  • Teresa Snowden, Ryukyu MS, Okinawa
  • Matt Binfield, Humphreys Central ES, Korea
  • Adele Collins, Kaiserslautern HS, Germany
  • Romy Kerstetter, Ansbach M/HS, Germany
  • Alina Rozanski, Netzaberg MS, Germany

The above individuals demonstrated outstanding grasp of the issues, research skills, and advocacy on behalf of their fellow Overseas members throughout the face-to-face bargaining and will continue to do so via the virtual bargaining process, which will resume next week and continue for at least three more weeks in November and December, with an additional week possible if either side deems it necessary.

To date, FEA and DoDEA negotiators have come to tentative agreement on 23 of 59 articles for a new Overseas contract. This represents solid progress, but the remaining Articles to be worked out are the most difficult, and represent DoDEA management's strongest efforts to severely limit or eliminate workplace rights and basic civil service protections.

Details about those Articles agreed upon thus far are not being released because the bargaining process is ongoing. In general, though, they deal with topics in which differences between the Association and DoDEA management were small and compromise could be reached relatively easily. Among the topics addressed in those 23 tentatively completed Articles are student discipline, Association/DoDEA cooperation, an employee assistance program, and professional learning.

Much more difficult will be coming to agreement on the 36 remaining Articles, which cover topics such as due process and just cause protections, the length and structure of the workday, the right to file grievances, and maintaining meaningful protections against discrimination and intimidation.

As we have reported in updates available at www.feaonline.org/overseascontract.htm, DoDEA management is citing mandates in the form of Executive Orders from the White House and is following tactics used against other federal bargaining units, including the FEA Stateside Region, in an attempt to seriously weaken employee rights and working conditions in Overseas schools.

Throughout bargaining of the Overseas contract, DoDEA negotiators have repeatedly made clear that their sole priority is maintaining and expanding management rights and they are not concerned about the damage they do to the working and learning environment in DoDEA schools.

The five FEA members who were in Washington DC the past six weeks for face-to-face bargaining with DoDEA did an excellent job explaining to management the harm its policies will cause if enacted -- not only to the morale and working conditions of DoDEA employees, but also to the learning environment for DoDEA students.

Among other issues, your fellow members at the Overseas bargaining table explained repeatedly the need for adequate and guaranteed prep time; for maintaining the present length of the duty day; for ensuring Overseas employees have a strong and adequately-funded Transfer program; and for guaranteeing employees' Congressionally-mandated rights to file grievances or to seek redress of unfair treatment, pay problems and various common concerns.

Sadly, despite being repeatedly informed of the harm management actions have already done and being further warned of the accelerated damage DoDEA schools would suffer under the policies it seeks in a new Overseas contract, DoDEA's bargaining team was largely unmoved and continues to push the present administration's anti-worker, anti-union policies and illegal mandates.

Some of the additional harmful proposals DoDEA continues to seek in a new Overseas contract include a much shorter period of time for employees to show improvement before they could be disciplined or fired, an elimination of virtually all grievance rights, the illegal extension of the duty day to 8.5 hours with no additional compensation and no guarantee of prep time, severe limits on the amount of Official Time elected employee representatives can use to conduct representational duties for all employees, and the elimination of due process and just-cause protections in disciplinary actions.

At the conclusion of the virtual bargaining currently scheduled to last into December, FEA and DoDEA are expected to engage the services of a federal mediator, whose goal is to coax each side toward compromise in hopes of reaching an agreement on any unsettled items.

The danger to FEA's Overseas bargaining unit comes from the fact the current bargaining process is overwhelmingly tilted in management's favor, thus creating very little incentive for them to compromise on most issues.

In traditional, fair bargaining, either side could declare an impasse once the mediator rules the mediation process has achieved all that it possibly can. An unbiased, impartial arbitrator or impasses panel should then decide any unresolved issues. The Federal Service Impasses Panel (FSIP) is supposed to serve as such an impartial body and undoubtedly DoDEA management hopes to bring any unresolved Articles in the Overseas contract before the FSIP so that body can rule either in favor of FEA or DoDEA management.

Unfortunately, the current administration has made the FSIP into a hyper-partisan, overwhelmingly anti-employee/anti-union kangaroo court, in which federal agencies have repeatedly and overwhelmingly been granted whatever contract terms they seek to impose upon workers.

FEA Stateside Region saw first-hand the harm the FSIP could do when FEA-SR and DoDEA went before the Panel last year to settle ten provisions at impasse in the successor Master Labor Agreement they were bargaining. The FSIP ruled for management on nearly all issues and the panel even overstepped its authority by attempting to grant DoDEA management more favorable terms on an issue that had already been settled between FEA SR and management.

DoDEA, anxious to take advantage of the FSIP's overwhelmingly pro-management ruling, sought to quickly and illegally implement the unsigned successor Master Labor Agreement, despite FEA SR disputing the validity of the FSIP ruling. An arbitration was held in September over the illegal implementation and FEA SR is currently awaiting the arbitrator's decision.

Because the law currently names the FSIP as the designated authority to settle contract impasses between labor and management and because DoDEA, like other federal agencies, knows the FSIP is overwhelmingly on the side of management in such disputes, there is not much incentive for DoDEA's negotiators to compromise.

Unless DoDEA's side begins listening to the members of FEA's Overseas bargaining team and demonstrates more willingness to follow the law and seek compromise, it seems likely much of the eventual Overseas contract will be imposed by the FSIP, and those terms will likely be very negative.

Should that happen, FEA will continue to pursue every legal avenue to improve working conditions and have any imposed contract provisions or practices that violate the law struck down.

Look for the process to continue in the weeks ahead with virtual bargaining. We again thank the members of our Overseas bargaining team for their hard work, which will require them to participate in bargaining sessions at odd hours of the evening and overnight depending upon their location. The input and first-hand knowledge your fellow bargaining unit members have bought to the table has had a positive impact on the contract thus far. We continue to hope DoDEA management will abandon the anti-worker weapons currently at its disposal and instead choose to work toward a contract that is mutually beneficial for management, employees and students.