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Albemarle schools and teachers union return to negotiating table

Collective bargaining negotiations are back on between Albemarle County Public Schools and the teacher’s union.

Allison Spillman, candidate for the school board’s at-large seat, revealed the news to The Daily Progress on Friday.

“I was really disappointed when negotiations broke down,” Spillman said. “They went back to negotiating this week, which is great. And it sounds like they’re making progress. So I’m really hopeful that that’s even finalized before I get on the board.”

School division spokesman Phil Giaramita confirmed the news that same day, telling The Daily Progress that negotiations resumed on Tuesday in a “productive discussion.”

“Following the meeting, both parties agreed on the scheduling of two additional sessions over the next few weeks,” Giaramita said via email, adding that it was the union’s decision to resume talks.

The union did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but it did announce the decision in a Facebook post on Oct. 17.

"The AEA and School Board representatives met today to continue the work of bringing collective bargaining to Albemarle. There has been movement on key provisions in the resolution, but not enough,” the post reads. “What we learned today is that they are listening to you. No agreements were reached, but future meetings have been scheduled to continue working to get to a strong, fair resolution. With your help, we will get there."​

In a move that surprised school board members, the union walked out of talks in early September, accusing the school division of “broken promises.”

The teachers union said at the time that the school board was attempting to incorporate a number of “poison pill provisions” in the collective bargaining agreement that would effectively render it useless.

Some of the key conflicts between the union and the school division, as described by the union, included:

A high election threshold: The board tried negotiating terms to set the participation threshold to be valid at 66% of voters. Elections are held to find an individual to represent union members in contract negotiations.Authorization of employee cards: The division refused to recognize authorization cards signed to verify that enough employees agreed to engage in collective bargaining.Creating negotiation loopholes: The terms presented by the board developed a clause that would allow them to go against contract or enact policies under emergency powers.Division coverage: Certain employee groups would not be allowed to engage in collective bargaining.

The union has also said it is uncomfortable with the involvement of Superintendent Matthew Haas.

During negotiations, the school division is represented by school board members Jonno Alcaro and Ellen Osborne as well as the division’s attorney Ross Holden. The union is represented by union President Vernon Liechti, Monticello High School teacher Tim Klobuchar, attorney Moriah Allen and a union adviser named Bob Fink.

Haas chairs the negotiations and is a “neutral party” that “takes no sides,” according to school division spokesman Phil Giaramita.

But the union has alleged Haas has been authorized “to write his own resolution for collective bargaining.”

“We need to make sure the public realizes what the school board was offering is literally one of the worst resolutions possible in the state of Virginia right now, and we don’t think the public wants the school board to do that,” Liechti, who is also a teacher at Albemarle High School, told The Daily Progress immediately after negotiations broke down.

The school board originally rejected the union’s collective bargaining resolution submitted last year, citing inadequate research and guidance on how to proceed with collecting bargaining, seeing as how the General Assembly had only repealed the resolution prohibiting public employee unions in 2020.

Giaramita did not say when the two upcoming sessions would be held, and it remains to be seen if they will bear fruit or if the school division and union will reach another impasse.

“It’s a top priority of mine to make sure that we get a collective bargaining agreement that is fair to the teachers and fair to the staff,” Spillman said in the event that no resolution is reached before she or her opponent Meg Bryce takes office. “I think it’s absolutely imperative that we figure out a way to get collective bargaining in Albemarle County.”

Albemarle teachers’ struggle to win collective bargaining stands in stark contrast to neighboring Charlottesville. City schools approved a collective bargaining resolution in March.


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