Union negotiations give way to mediation in Fridley School District
Paraprofessional, clerical, food service units seek raises
Fridley School District negotiation meetings that endured since last August recently gave way when three Local 284 Service Employees International Union (SEIU) units filed for mediation.
Fridley School Board Chair Gordon Backlund noted that he’s seen negotiations take even longer, so this timeline is not altogether unusual.
“Everyone has a job, and meetings have to be scheduled around work requirements, so when it is complex, it can take a long time,” Backlund said of the negotiation process in an email to Sun Newspapers. “But I’m sure we can resolve our differences. I value our employees. We trust our children’s education to their work and efforts. We will come to an agreement that works for everyone.”
The paraprofessional (about 78 members), clerical (about 33 members) and food service (about 19 members) groups will each meet separately with a third-party mediator and district representatives in three meetings during the first week of March. The clerical group also includes those who work with the district’s computers, as well as library aids and health aids. These units negotiate new contracts every two years.
“These tend to be the most moderately paid groups in the district, and we believe the employer needs to treat us fairly,” SEIU Local 284 President Keith Niemi told Sun Newspapers. “We’re hoping to settle the contracts through mediation.”
Backlund said, in his experience, that mediation usually takes one or two sessions, but Niemi said he’s also seen mediations continue for as many as 12 sessions. Niemi noted that mediation, while beneficial, can be a time-consuming process.
“Sometimes it’s helpful to have a third person look at the situation to make sure the two sides are communicating their interests,” Backlund added.
Negotiations have been made difficult by district finances and a precedent of previous raises to other employee groups in the district.
“We think we’ve moved as far as we can go,” Niemi said. “None of our members are going to get rich; we’ve got folks in those units making less than $20,000 a year and they provide incredibly good service in supporting the lives of the children. … I think the employer needs to treat them fairly – nothing that goes beyond what they’ve done for the other groups in the district.”
With consideration to how the negotiations are going, the Fridley School Board voted Jan. 22 to keep the board members’ salaries with no change until there’s been a review of the process of setting salaries. The board unanimously approved an increase in the board members’ salaries in 2012.
Niemi said that everyone can agree there have been funding challenges for public education, but what Gov. Mark Dayton has proposed for future funding priorities could bode well for education and could prove helpful in Fridley in coming years.
“These are tough times, the issues are complex and it takes time to work out differences. We are moving along, albeit slowly,” Backlund said.
“We’ve moved very close to where we think the district would like to be, but we need to be treated fairly and the same as the other groups,” Niemi said. “That’s where we’re at.”
Contact Sarah Peterson at email@example.com