One of the continuing issues property owners in New Rochelle have with the School District is the annual raising of property taxes. When the District holds public meetings for the community to field questions and explain the rationale for increases, they general beginning the meeting with lengthy testimonials from all of the district schools as well as the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) extolling the virtue of the District. By the time they come around to community questions, many people have left the premises based on the hour or on sheer boredom and only then, the dog and pony show and questions appear.
To add insult to injury, people attending the session sometimes have had questions responded to by the Union Head, Martin Daly, which is unusual to say the least, outrageous under any condition, and, were this arrangement under the supervision of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, likely deemed as contrary to law and even an unfair practice. During such occasions, the presence of the Union Head has been justified as being part of an open community meeting. This is interesting from a number of viewpoints; Mr. Daly is not a resident or taxpayer in New Rochelle and his speaking for the District would suggest the negotiations between District and Union is properly described as being a “Sweetheart Contract” --- Mr. Daley generally responds to any questions regarding union member “givebacks” --- he indicates that the union's easing of salary increases does not justify or merit any benefits “giveback.”
Going beyond the inappropriateness at a community presentation, the support of the school board elected by the audience at these meetings and the likely unlawful nature of the union's presence, we would do well to fully understand the contents of the actual agreement itself (FUSE/NEW ROCHELLE SCHOOL BOARD), residents and taxpayers would be well advised to understand the content of said agreement and to dwell upon the generosity of the salary, benefits, working conditions, and comparisons to other positions in the City (first providers as an example) as well as contextually, how our teaching staff stacks up against peers throughout the United States. This, however, is the subject of one or two later reports; for now, it is very important for residents to understand what the Taylor Report is and what it was designed for in New York State. The most important take away from this report is that the Taylor Law is designed to curtail public employees rights to strike. This is critical to know for our School District appears to be unwilling to negotiate in good faith to protect the property tax payer against burgeoning tax increases and to improperly deny the taxpayer transparency and I input into what is in the contract, what the broad bargaining agenda items are, and what the electorate need and expect in terms of School District performance. To be absolutely fair, there are other aspects of proper financial and expense management that have nothing to do with the negotiated contracts. FUSE is not responsible for issues around non-bargaining unit salaries, salary increases, or bonuses. They are not responsible for State mandates that require specific funding by the District, And, above all, they are not responsible for the abject lack of expense management skill, long range capital planning, financial management, resource allocation, and oversight shortcomings that lie squarely in the lap of the District and Board.
With the above in mind, let's look at the major highlights of the Taylor Law.
What is the Taylor Law
The Taylor Law actually is Article 14 of the broader New York State Civil Service Law and its official title under said law is the New York State Public Employees Fair Employment Act. It covers most public employees of New York State and, unknown to much of the public, employees of counties, cities, towns, villages, school districts, and several other smaller entities. You will see the governance of this law in Article 1.01 of the latest agreement between the City School District of the City of New Rochelle, New York (as employer) and the New Rochelle Federation of United School Employees (FUSE)(as employees).
The Taylor Law or Article 14 of the NYS Civil Service Law became effective on September 1, 1967. It is the legal framework used by the NYS Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) to administer this law. Actually PERB can be considered an independent and neutral agency as the Governor, with advice and consent of the State Senate, appoints this 3 member board to protect the public interest as well as the fair collective bargaining and contract administration terms and conditions of negotiated agreements between public employers and employees.
What is the "Heart" of Article 14, the Taylor Law
In its most simple terms, it seeks to strike a proper balance between the public's good and the rights of employers and employees to negotiate and administer fair labor contracts. It can be best described in six (6) relatively simple points:
1. Grants public employees (as hitherto described) the right to organize and be represented by a bargaining party of its own choice. In terms of New Rochelle pedagogic and school related personnel (largely teachers), the representation is through FUSE.
2. Requires public employers, such as the New Rochelle School District, to negotiate and enter into agreements with public employee representatives regarding the terms and conditions of employment. NOTE: the requirement is to bargain and not to surrender or accede to all demands. The reader should also carefully consider that the employer in this instance is bargaining on behalf of a voting constituency; many of whom will eventually pay for these agreements in the form of property taxes.
3. Establishes impasse procedures for the resolution of collective bargaining disputes.
4. Defines and prohibits improper practices by public employees and public employer organization. In short, the terms and conditions of bargained agreements state what the contract stipulates and any real or perceived violation of same are subject to review and potential corrective action. It is important to note that improper practices can be alleged and complained by either party during key events or activities that impact a collective bargaining contract. One example would be alleged improper collusion between employer and employee representation brought before PERB by the electorate who have voted in the employee group (School Board) if such alleged collusion negatively impacts open and fair collective bargaining.
5. Prohibits strikes by public employees --- this is critical in terms of protecting the public interest and is a component of the Taylor Law not mentioned to the taxpaying voter. Although not explicitly stated, this point likely would proscribe (not permit) employer lockouts as well. A good and recent example of a PERB action was large fines directed at the Transport Workers Union and the jailing of its president, Roger Toussaint in late 2005 when the union struck.
6. Establishes PERB as the administrative arm of the Taylor Law.
Roles, Relationships and Responsibilities of PERB
PERB can be best seen as an impartial source in terms of getting management and labor to settle disputes arising from the collective bargaining process. Again, the members are appointed by the Governor and State Senate. As part of their duties, they administer the law, resolve disputes, provide impasse services, adjudicate improper practices charges, determine “confidential” staff that should not be part of the employee bargaining unit, pinpoint responsibility for any refusal to work situation, assess penalties and forfeitures, and administer grievance procedures. They also administer interest arbitration panels; which I think, would incorporate aspects of the somewhat questionable nature of the relationship between the District and Union in New Rochelle as well as the role played by the Head of FUSE in New Rochelle in terms of a significant interest group – The PTA.
Methodology Followed in Contract Disputes
I currently seeking clarification of an awkwardly worded part of Article 14 , contract disputes, on Binding Arbitration. The language seems to restrict this remedy to first providers and compensation. I don't think this is the case as it would leave the resolution process stuck under the proceeding step, Fact-Finding, which is, unlike Binding Arbitration, non-binding in nature. However, even if so, this would not really be a severe malfunction as it would not obviate the no strike clause. It would simply mean continued negotiation. The Fact-Finder writes a report and makes recommendations and makes them public. Perhaps the community would be more motivated to examine the School District and its employee union and contract given this helpful prodding and take responsibility for same.
The prescribed steps of contract disputes are:
1. Mediation – the required first step throughout all stages of the contract dispute process. The mediator is appointed by the Director of PERB full time staff or panel of per-diem mediators; all highly skilled and trained professionals. H/she acts as a liaison between the parties and looks to get a compromise or agreement. Either the employer or employee group can request mediation if an impasse is seen.
2. Fact-Finding – if mediation does not work, there is fact-finding. A fact-finder tries to resolve through further mediation. No outcomes usually lead to hearing where testimony of witnesses is taken, written briefs accepted and in a timely fashion, the Fact-Finder will write a non-binding recommendation of settlement. H/she will make this report and recommendations public within five days of transmission of the report to employer and employee groups.
3. Binding Arbitration – in cases where first providers such as police and fire fighters are involved, and no earlier step has led to an outcome, either party can request binding arbitration. For the NYS Police this only can be employed on compensation issues. It may be that binding arbitration may not be an option for the greater number of groups covered by the Taylor Law and that would include school districts. Perhaps they are expected to “work it out” with the representative unions for no matter how long it takes or it may work out similar to a “hung jury” in a trial where the judge sends it back to the jury room saying, “work it out.” I will get clarification, but it is not a bad thing in and of itself, especially given that the Fact-Finder must issue a report to the public five days after notification to the parties in dispute.
4. Legislative Hearings – at this point in time first responders and educational institutions are barred from this remedy.
5. Conciliation –can be offered by PERB if an impasse continues after a fact-finding report is issued.