On April 15th, the Gallup-McKinley County School Board voted 5-0 to voluntarily recognize that it would bargain with the District's 285 Educational Assistants (EA’s). But the School Board had a different story for the New Mexico Public Employees Labor Relations Board (PELRB). After agreeing publicly to recognize the EAs as part of the union, the District put a halt to the process at the PERLB indicating that the EAs had not yet proven that they deserved the right to bargain collectively.
“I have waited for years to have the right to bargain. My coworkers and I make some of the lowest wages in the district and have some of the most challenging working conditions. We work one-on-one with SPED students. We are with the kids from the time they get off the bus until they go home for the day. Many of us earn under $14,000 a year. It is time we have the ability to have a seat at the table,” said one assistant.
The School Board President claimed that the Board was confused as to what they were voting on when they agreed to recognize the assistants. However, state regulations are clear: voluntary recognition in NM state labor law refers to the process by which a public employer agrees to bargain with employees contingent upon a showing of majority support by union members. Over 60% of Gallup-McKinley County Educational Assistants have already signed authorization cards showing they wish to be represented by the McKinley County Federation of United School Employees (MCFUSE).
At the School Board meeting on April 15th, the Board did question whether or not the EAs would be required to join the union. MCFUSE President, Brian J. Bernard explained that voluntary recognition would not require Educational Assistants to become union members; but make them part of the Bargaining Unit and allow them the opportunity to choose if they want to be members. “The right to bargain collectively is not exclusively tied to whether or not the employees decide to become union members. Union membership is an option that members of the bargaining unit can choose. ”
The District twisted Bernard’s words to claim that they did not have to honor their vote to bargain with the Educational Assistants.
“I believe that the Educational Assistants should have the same rights as teachers, bus drivers, custodians, and maintenance workers to bargain over their wages and working conditions. I sincerely hope that the Board will reconsider,” says Mr. Bernard.
If the Board does not recognize the current showing of majority support, EA’s will likely have to wait at least until the next school year to restart the process. The delay would likely mean that Educational Assistants would be excluded from bargaining for increases that the legislature has allotted for school employee raises.
“Leaving us out of the process is bad for employee morale and simply unfair,” say assistants.