Chelmsford Teachers Union Appeals Settlement Over Labor Complaint
CHELMSFORD -- The School Committee has entered a unilateral settlement agreement with the state Department of Labor Relations that dismisses a Chelmsford Federation of Teachers labor complaint stemming from a 2017 incident involving the union’s former president.
The union is appealing the agreement, with a state-level union leader calling the settlement “one-sided” and an “outrageous attempt by the School Department to avoid taking responsibility for violating the rights of teachers and their union representatives.”
Under the agreement, the School Committee and its agents (via the School Department) do not admit to any liability or wrongdoing, because the committee “disputes the factual allegations and claims outlined in the complaint,” according to a statement from committee Chairman Dennis King.
He said the committee offered the resolution to the Department of Labor Relations “in an effort to save both sides the cost, time and disruption of further litigation.”
“It is in the best interests of this school district to put this unfortunate situation behind us,” King said in the statement. “We as a district have moved on, and are focused on the long-term interests of this great school district. We respect and appreciate the role of the Chelmsford Federation of Teachers, and we look forward to continuing a positive and collaborative relationship between the school district and their new leadership, based on mutual respect and dedication to our teachers and our students.”
Rob Russo, the current president of the teachers’ union, said Thursday the union had no comment.
On Friday, American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts President Beth Kontos released a statement rejecting the settlement and announcing the union’s intention to appeal.
“The Chelmsford Schools used heavy-handed and illegal tactics against an elected union president who raised a serious student safety issue in the school where she worked,” Kontos said in the statement. “Instead of addressing that safety issue, school officials chose to call the police.
“Chelmsford school officials have misrepresented their role and consistently evaded responsibility,” Kontos’ statement continued. “Now they want to sweep their behavior under the rug. For the protection of teachers and students throughout the commonwealth, we will not allow this charade to continue.”
The complaint stems from a Nov. 22, 2017 incident at Harrington Elementary School involving then-union President Jennifer Salmon and state-level union field representative Eric Blanchet and the school district’s subsequent handling of the matter.
Salmon, a third-grade teacher at Harrington, and Blanchet sought to meet with then-Interim Principal Patty Tobin regarding a first-grade classroom situation but were denied on the grounds they were not entitled to a particular student’s confidential information. They tried to force a meeting anyway, and were escorted out of the building by police when the situation became heated. Salmon was placed on paid administrative leave for nearly two weeks while the district investigated the matter.
The union filed the unfair labor practice complaint with the state Department of Labor Relations on Dec. 5, 2017, alleging the School Committee and its agents had engaged in prohibited practices under law including interfering with protected, concerted activities of union members.
In June, a DLR investigator dismissed 23 of the 40 alleged violations in the complaint, and found probable cause of a violation among the 17 remaining charges.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, signed and executed March 5, the School Committee agrees to recognize union members’ rights to engage in protected, concerted activities including self-organization and collective bargaining through representatives of their own choosing. The committee also agrees to not interfere with, restrain or coerce in any way employees exercising their right to engage or refrain from participating in such activities, or do the following:
* discipline union representatives for engaging in protected activity;
* prohibit union representatives and officials from engaging in such activity on school property;
* prohibit union representatives from communicating with and assisting bargaining unit members with workplace concerns, including safety issues, and discourage employees from seeking help from the union to address such concerns;
* disparage the union and its representatives;
* prohibit bargaining unit members from requesting and receiving union representation or select who may act as employees’ representatives during investigatory interviews; and
* question unit members about their communications with union representatives.
The agreement rescinds the Nov. 22, 2017 letter Superintendent Jay Lang wrote placing Salmon on administrative leave in connection with the incident, rescinds the Dec. 12, 2017 written reprimand issued against her, and removes any reference to both from her personnel file.
School officials must also post the settlement agreement notice for 30 consecutive days.
Should school officials not comply with any of the terms or provisions of the agreement, after 14 days’ notice of noncompliance without remedy, the DLR would reissue the amended complaint of prohibited practice issued in June.
King declined to comment on Kontos’ statement.
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