Bargaining the best school system for educators, students

The Colorado Education Association hosted more than 100 members from across the state in Denver, Nov. 17 – 19, to share skills and knowledge in the science and art of negotiations.

“Our voices matter,” said Greg McQuade, CEA’s director of bargaining at the Association’s fall bargaining conference. “We bargain for fair employment practices and improved salaries and benefits because better working conditions for our hard-working public school employees inherently become better learning conditions for our children.”

Kevin LaDuke of the Mesa Valley Education Association travelled from Grand Junction to attend the conference. As school districts across Colorado continue to grapple with stifling budget cuts, LaDuke says all parties need to work together to make the best educational system for students.

“Bargaining is trying to work together to solve the problems that we have in education now,” said LaDuke in an interview with CEA communications. “It shouldn’t be seen as where one position or one group is against the other group.  It should be where it’s groups working together to try to solve our problems that were having in the workplace, or in the workforce.”

Mary Shelton-Kelley represents bus drivers, food service workers, custodians and other groups in the Boulder Valley Classified Employees Association.

“It’s been very interesting to hear some of the conversation,” said Shelton-Kelley during a break in-between training sessions. “Listening to people and what they need is really important. I’m kind of like a sponge – I just want to learn.”

The interest-based system is a method of bargaining LaDuke enjoyed studying at the conference.

“It’s not one position against another position. It’s the two groups coming to a session together to sit down and make it work, not where you’re trying to get the largest leverage over the other person, but working together to come out with the best solution,” LaDuke explained. “You tell your story, each side.  You both work on options together to come to a great compromise.”

“This year is going to be very interesting for us, we’re looking forward to it,” said Shelton-Kelley of the next bargaining sessions in Boulder. “There’s not a whole lot of money out there, so we have to be creative in what we ask for and how we ask for it.

“We need to train people [to bargain] because you can not be in a district, in this position to do bargaining for 15, 20 years,” added Shelton-Kelley. “You need to get new blood in there, you need to get new faces…you need to get people in there who can give new ideas.”

McQuade said educators share core values of equal opportunity, democracy, professionalism, partnership and collective action that instill a strong foundation for a successful bargainer.

“As a former history teacher, I arguably taught the most important content there is to know in our world: politics is the system of deciding who gets what, when, and how,” said McQuade. “In a volatile external environment, it is important to be in the place “where” decisions are being made in order to ensure checks and balances are present in the outcome. The “where” for our public school employees is at the bargaining table.”

Watch the speeches from the conference’s two guest speakers, former football star, player union rep and teacher Louis Wright and communications union activist Sheila Lieder, on CEA’s YouTube channel.

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