Prince William County school system, union engage in war of words

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

The Prince William County School Board and the union seeking to represent its employees are in another contentious back-and-forth, this week over a critical press release from the union and a letter sent by school division attorneys in response.

The substance of the disagreements comes down to several key issues pertaining to the Prince William Education Association’s upcoming union election, including the availability of electronic voting, exactly which employees will be voting and whether the school system’s standard meet-and-confer process should go forward ahead of the vote.

Starting Jan. 3, the school division’s roughly 7,000 state-licensed employees (teachers, nurses, counselors and some others) will have the opportunity to decide if the PWEA should represent them in a collective bargaining process.

A Nov. 30 press release from the PWEA called for several provisions in the School Board’s recently-passed collective bargaining resolution to be removed and for the division’s standard meet-and-confer process – by which division leadership meets with employee and employee groups for input on the upcoming budget process – to be suspended until the results of the election are in.

As it did prior to the resolution’s passage, the union also called on the removal of a 50% election threshold. The School Board’s resolution mandated that for any union to be successfully elected as the exclusive bargaining representative for either of the two employee bargaining units, at least 50% of the unit must participate in the election. School Board members had said that the provision was meant to ensure that the election represented the wishes of the school system’s employees. In its press release, the PWEA called the process “undemocratic and an obvious attempt at union busting” and said that the School Board was attempting to delay the union vote.

Days later, school division counsel Wade Anderson shot back in a letter to PWEA attorney Broderick Dunn. The letter, obtained by InsideNoVa, said that any delay in “getting an election scheduled has been caused solely by you and Ms. Maggie Hansford, the President of the PWEA.” He also said that, as PWEA has not yet been elected to collectively bargain on behalf of any employees, the meet-and-confer process should go on as planned.

The board’s bargaining resolution splits employees into two potential bargaining units – one for licensed employees and another for non-licensed employees, including bus drivers, food service employees, maintenance workers and others.

Anderson’s letter said there’s been confusion about which of the two employee bargaining units PWEA was seeking to represent. Previously, Dunn had told InsideNoVa that PWEA had only submitted a request to represent the licensed employee unit, from which the PWEA had submitted signatures to start the bargaining resolution process back in the spring. But in its release, the PWEA implied that it had requested to hold an election for both licensed and non-licensed employee units at the same time, despite having not submitted union cards from non-licensed employees, a requisite for triggering an election.

“[On] October 20, 2022, Ms. Hansford sent Dr. Donna Eagle, PWCS Chief Human Resource Officer, a letter styled as a ‘request to certify.’ In the letter, the PWEA stated that it was seeking an election by ‘the PWEA bargaining unit,’ which is not the name given to either of the bargaining units in the Resolution,” Anderson’s letter reads. “Although it was unclear which bargaining unit the PWEA sought to represent, Ms. Hansford had previously notified PWCS that it sought to represent only the Licensed Personnel.”

Anderson said that he offered to meet with Dunn on Oct. 28, Nov. 1, Nov. 3 or Nov. 4 and asked Dunn to confirm which group the PWEA was seeking to represent. The two sides ultimately met on Nov. 4 to discuss potential outside arbitrators who would oversee the election. Anderson said that neither Dunn nor Hansford proposed any names of arbitrators.

“On November 5, 2022, you informed us for the first time that the PWEA was seeking not one, but two elections, both commencing in early January. … Combined, the two units comprise … more than 11,000 employees,” Anderson said.

Dunn told InsideNoVa that they were seeking to have their request to represent non-licensed employees certified by late next week and hold an election for that bargaining unit either in concurrence with the election for licensed employees or later in January. Hansford herself did not respond to multiple requests for comment from InsideNoVa.

“[The third party] has to certify and then he will set the election,” Dunn told InsideNoVa Tuesday. “He’s going to have to be satisfied that we’ve shown enough interest. And my understanding is we’re in the process of getting him that information by week end and that he will certify next week.”

Anderson’s letter goes on to say that after the two sides met with potential election vendors, Eric Paltell – the division’s outside counsel brought in to consult on collective bargaining – asked for the PWEA’s directions on next steps.

“Given the PWEA’s desire to start voting in early January, we need to move pretty quickly to finalize arrangements. Please let Wade and me know how you would like to proceed at this juncture,” Paltell wrote, according to Anderson. But Anderson’s letter says that the PWEA did not respond for 11 days.

Further on, he writes that the press release distributed by PWEA “is either knowingly false or shows a reckless disregard for the truth” and requests a retraction.

On Tuesday, after requests to respond to the letter from InsideNoVa, Dunn responded to Anderson’s letter with a correspondence of his own, criticizing the dissemination of their letter to the media and alleging that Anderson “raised [his] voice” at Hansford in a Dec. 5 phone call.

“PWEA will not be bullied,” Dunn wrote. “It would be a waste of precious time and resources to address each and every point raised in your December 2, 2022 correspondence. Needless to say, PWEA strongly disputes your bald accusation that ‘any “delay” in getting an election scheduled has been caused solely by [me] and Ms. Maggie Hansford.’ I am a product of Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School and Stuart M. Beville Middle School in Dale City. … I do not collect checks from suburban Richmond. … You and the School Board have caused delays.”

Dunn says that the School Board is only now approving electronic election participation, months after the union first requested it. A resolution in the consent agenda for Wednesday night’s School Board meeting would amend the original bargaining resolution to allow for such electronic participation, and Dunn told InsideNoVa that elections will be primarily held electronically with some telephone or mail-in option.

“It would have certainly been easier to address this issue the first time around,” Dunn said in his letter to Anderson.

“PWEA agreed to the [arbitrator] the School Board proposed. PWEA agreed to use the third-party election vendor that you introduced instead of the one suggested by PWEA. PWEA stands ready, willing, and able to move forward with the certification and election process,” he goes on to write. “Instead of raising your voice and taking cheap shots in the media at PWEA and its president, let’s try to work together moving forward. What we do matters to the taxpayers. It matters to our educators and other School Division employees. Most importantly, it matters to the students in Prince William County Public Schools. Please conduct yourself accordingly.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner InsideNoVa.com and republished with permission. Sign up for InsideNoVa.com’s free email subscription today.

 

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