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Ruling backs school district
A state hearing officer rules against the union's complaint about labor practices.
By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published November 20, 2007
LAND O'LAKES - The complaints started even before Pasco superintendent Heather Fiorentino officially sent out her memo in May telling district workers they might be on call to work emergency shelters over the summer, if needed.
No way, the United School Employees of Pasco responded.
"Our employees are not the chattel of the school district," union president Lynne Webb said at the time.
The administration would have to negotiate to change the conditions under which the vast majority of district staffers work before unilaterally imposing such a requirement, she argued.
Not so, a state hearing officer has ruled.
Fiorentino and her staff did all that it could, including offering to bargain, before sending out the "hurricane memo" on the last day of classes, Public Employee Relations Commission hearing officer Julie R. Steinmeyer wrote in her recommended order issued late last week. The administration even altered the memo to answer many of the union's specific concerns, she added.
So Steinmeyer recommended that the union's unfair labor practice complaint be thrown out.
The union, it seems, never requested to negotiate the issue, despite the district's offer to have talks. More, Steinmeyer wrote, the union failed to show that the administration's revised shelter staffing policy had a direct or negative impact on any employee.
"A demand to bargain which does not identify a specific impact is insufficient to state a prima facie violation of an employer's duty to bargain," Steinmeyer wrote.
She also stated that the sides should be responsible for their own legal expenses, meaning that neither the union nor the district acted frivolously in the matter.
Assistant superintendent Renalia DuBose, who helped write the memo, said the ruling simply validated what she and others knew to be appropriate.
"We're not going to do anything any differently than what we did," DuBose said. "We want to use volunteers. We always use volunteers. But heaven forbid that a catastrophic event happens."
The district has a legal responsibility to staff the emergency shelters, she noted, and it will call upon employees if not enough volunteers show up.
Union leaders were preparing for contract negotiations and not available for comment.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 813 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.