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West Valley teachers, district have deal

Negotiators on Monday reached a tentative agreement on a labor contract for teachers in West Valley School District, which would end 12 weeks of tense negotiations in which the union and district filed unfair labor practices complaints against each other.

Superintendent Polly Crowley and Washington Education Association UniServ representative Michael Boyer confirmed the sides had reached an agreement, although details will not be released until it is finalized.

“It looks like it came out all right after all the stuff we went through,” Boyer said.

Several days after negotiations started in late July the parties agreed to most elements of the two-year contract for the district’s 225 certificated employees. Talks then stalled on the union’s request that teachers be given the choice between binding arbitration and the current hearing process when there is a dispute over termination.

After seven meetings, the parties requested help from a mediator with Washington’s Public Employment Relations Commission just before the existing contract expired Aug. 31.

“We’ve had a very difficult time in negotiations,” Boyer said.

Although documents filed with the Public Employment Relations Commission indicate the parties came close to an agreement during mediation, bargaining that both sides characterized as in bad faith led to the union filing an unfair labor practice complaint with PERC on Oct. 3, followed by the school district’s complaint the following week.

In the first filing, the union alleged that the school district abdicated its duty to negotiate the contract to its lawyer, Paul Clay, to the point that he was formulating the district’s position and had to be present during negotiations to explain it to district officials. It also charged that the district engaged in regressive bargaining during mediation by proposing changes to the contract unrelated to the disagreement over arbitration.

Boyer also said the district had recently been withholding part of its contribution to the teachers’ health insurance pool.

Meanwhile, the school district alleged that the union rejected reasonable compromises and put a disproportionate emphasis on arbitration after indicating at the beginning of negotiations that all of the union’s issues were of equal importance.

According to the district, the union tried to introduce a new demand during mediation by asking that discharged employees be paid during the grievance process.

The district’s complaint filed with PERC indicates the arbitration issue stemmed from an employee being fired for the misuse of sick leave when the union felt the employee should have had the option of seeking arbitration. The complaint indicates that the union turned down an offer that would allow arbitration in the termination of an employee violating sick leave policies.

It also alleges that the union refused to form a committee to negotiate the arbitration issue during the school year, as it has with other disputed contract issues in the past.

Additionally, the complaint characterizes a records request by Boyer for information on how much the district had paid its attorney as an attempt to coerce the school district in its selection of who represents it in negotiations.

Both unfair labor practices complaints would be dropped as part of the agreement reached Monday, Crowley said.