My name is Katie Jefferson. I have worked as a Speech Pathologist for Prince William County Schools for the last 10 years. For most of that time, my involvement with the Prince William Education Association consisted of the dues payments I had deducted from each paycheck. However, I decided to become more active around the time PWEA began organizing for collective bargaining after Virginia reversed its ban for public sector employees.
I grew up in a strong union state, so I understood what an important opportunity collective bargaining represented for employees of our school division. I also knew that allowing school employees to negotiate better contracts would attract talented staff to PWCS, benefiting students and the community as a whole.
Of course, negotiations require compromise, and I fully expected some give-and-take between our union and the PWC School Board throughout this process. Still, I was optimistic that the Democrat-led board and their bargaining team would treat us respectfully and negotiate in good faith. I wish I could say my optimism was warranted.
I became increasingly involved as the collective bargaining campaign progressed, which led to me getting elected to the PWEA Board of Directors, and then later to our union’s bargaining team for contract negotiations. I have taken part in every stage of this process, and I have felt disrespected by the school board and the division’s bargaining team every step of the way.
After PWEA collected signatures from over 5,000 division employees, the school board hired a union-busting attorney from Maryland to write a collective bargaining resolution blatantly stacked in their favor. For instance, the resolution’s language made it much harder for PWEA to become the bargaining agent for employees. Also, if an impasse occurs in negotiations, the resolution allows the school board to ignore a mediator’s decisions and ratify any contract language they want.
It became clear to me why the school board included this language in the resolution once we began contract negotiations with the division’s bargaining team. It was obvious early on that they did not take us seriously, denying leave to two of our bargaining team members who were bus drivers, telling us “I think their time is better spent driving buses.” At the most recent bargaining session, they told us that division management has ‘real jobs’ alluding to the idea that management does not consider negotiating with staff as part of their job.
They have worked to limit transparency as much as possible, refusing to allow staff or PWC parents to witness what takes place at the negotiation table, even via livestream and/or webinar formats. A large majority of draft contract articles have been submitted by PWEA, and the division’s team routinely refuses to even negotiate a compromise on many items included.
They have lost their tempers on more than one occasion when contradicted by our team members during negotiations, yelling and storming out of the room. When our legal counsel (they have three attorneys on their team) disagreed with the division team’s lead recollection of a previous conversation, he was threatened with retaliation with the words, “the bar is smaller than you think it is.” They have refused to add additional bargaining dates and have left us in a position to negotiate the majority of the remaining contract in only three negotiation sessions.
Time and time again, the division’s negotiation team members, school board members, and division staff have taken a tone with PWEA that has been hostile and dismissive, they have taken multiple steps to prevent transparency, and have refused to compromise on or even consider numerous proposals while offering almost nothing in return.
The sad fact is this: if you want students in our county to go to schools that are fully staffed with talented professionals, if you want the division to have enough bus drivers to make sure students make it on time, if you think that education staff should be paid enough to afford to live in PWC, if you believe that our educators and support staff deserve respect and a fair contract from our division, we need your help.
Please reach out to your school board members and demand they negotiate in good faith. Reach out to your county supervisor. Reach out to the media. Find out how well-staffed your child’s school is, and ask our elected officials and the people they appoint what they are going to do to make more people want to work in our school division. Now is the time to act, while there is still time to turn these negative trends around.
NOTE: This post was provided by the Prince William Educational Association [PWEA] as part of an ongoing advertising campaign; it is not an investigative piece by Bristow Beat. Reporters were not allowed in the room for the negotiations nor was a recording made available. The interpretation of the events at the negotiations and opinions presented in the article are that of the author as is the language chosen. Bristow Beat is not affirming nor denying they occurred. Bristow Beat spoke to two others associated with the PWEA who stand by the assessment of the situation, and the article was approved by the PWEA. Representatives from PWCS can contact Bristow Beat if they would like to provide a response that we will feature in a future news article. firstname.lastname@example.org
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