Every three years or so, PGCEA members sit down with the Board of Education representatives to discuss salary, benefits, planning time, classroom discipline, school safety, non-teaching duties, materials, and more. Agreements reached as a part of these talks become the contract between the Board of Education and PGCEA members. The contract governs wages, benefits, and working conditions for everyone in our bargaining unit, including teachers, specialists, guidance counselors, speech and occupational therapists, pupil personnel workers, and psychologists. The contractual language we can negotiate depends on several variables, including:
Maryland’s State Board of Education and many local boards of education are trying to limit the range of issues teachers can bring to the bargaining table. For example, they have said that we cannot negotiate over education policy issues such as class size. PGCEA disagrees. We believe these kinds of problems are critical to our ability to do our jobs and assure our students’ highest quality education. The county government can refuse to fund the contract as negotiated – and has. Because the law in Maryland does not create a level playing field, teachers face a continuous battle to protect the gains they win in negotiations. It takes our collective action to protect our negotiated agreement.
In most cases, administrators try to follow the contract. When they do not or when teachers and administrators interpret the language differently, PGCEA uses the grievance procedure to solve the dispute. The grievance procedure is part of the contract and is therefore binding. It has several steps, beginning with an informal discussion between the grievant and the immediate supervisor, usually the principal. The grievant has the right to have a PGCEA representative present. Arbitration, the final step in the grievance process, often gives the school system an incentive to settle at a lower level by involving a neutral, outside party.
Should the grievance not “settle,” the decision of the arbitrator is binding. You may hear that the grievance procedure protects “bad” teachers in the system. PGCEA’s view is that we have an interest and responsibility to preserve all teachers’ due process rights. This protects all of us from favoritism, discrimination, and everyday conflicts of style and personality.