Local union leaders are upset after a decision by Director of Schools Dr. Jesse Register to discontinue memoranda of understanding with the Service Employees International Union Local 205 and the United Steelworkers union.
SEIU Local 205 president Doug Collier and USW president Jim Buckley sent official complaints to the Metro Nashville School Board on Monday, claiming that Register is unlawfully attempting to limit the rights of school system service employees.
Collier accuses Register of telling service employees that last year’s state legislature-enacted law that eliminated teachers’ collective bargaining rights applied to the SEIU.
“Dr. Register is now trying to use those laws — which do not apply to school support employees — as an excuse to overreach his authority and silence the voices of thousands of loyal city employees who voted to form a union,” Collier said in a press release.
In a letter to employees, Register said the memoranda of understanding aren’t legally binding but rather “reflected our intention to work with the unions for our schools and our students.”
“It is still important to have a positive working relationship with support employees and their representatives, but we will no longer have MOU with unions,” Register wrote.
Register also wrote a letter to Collier and Buckley on Dec. 21, informing them that “executive staff” met and voted to rescind the school system’s Labor Negotiations Policy.
“The unlawful negotiation of the foregoing conduct by Dr. Register is nothing short of breathtaking,” the SEIU complaint reads. “Dr. Register … has no authority to ‘rescind’ a policy adopted by the Board of Education, to withdraw recognition of employees’ exclusive representative as certified by the Board, or to unilaterally terminate an MOU.”
A MNPS spokeswoman said Register does have the authority to change district policies based on a Board decision in 2003.
Buckley said the USW and SEIU are on the same page with their complaints.
“I think (Register) took a gargantuan leap to silence the voices of people who work for him,” Buckley said.
Metro Nashville Public School officials declined to comment on the complaint and directed questions toward the school board. Messages left for board Chair Gracie Porter were unanswered as of Friday morning.
The SEIU asked the board of education to revoke Register’s letter, inform employees that SEIU continues to operate and instruct Register to stop “distributions or communications to employees wrongly claiming that SEIU … is no longer employees’ exclusive representative.”
The SEIU said problems started last year after the school system’s grievance policy was changed without employee input. Collier called the move a “flagrant violation of our standing agreement with MNPS and the district’s labor policy.”
According to the SEIU complaint, Register or his “designees” have also been encouraging employees to withdraw union membership. An MNPS official declined knowledge of those allegations.
But in Register’s letter to employees, he states that the steelworkers and SEIU will still be recognized as “a representative” of employees. Collier said he took that phrase to mean the SEIU was no longer the “exclusive representative” of employees.
“It is my sincere hope all employees will continue to work together to provide the best possible services to the children enrolled in our schools,” Register said. “I value the hard working and dedicated support staff in our district and recognize that our successful operation depends on your efforts.”