On March 31, 2020, the California Department of Education (CDE) released correspondence from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond regarding the COVID-19 emergency and its impacts on local educational agencies (LEAs) in California. In addition to referencing continued support in navigating distance learning models for teachers and students, the overall message was that we should prepare now to set up our schools to increase class time at home and provide distance learning for students through the rest of the 2019–20 school year. More information regarding Superintendent Thurmond’s correspondence can be accessed here.
As we continue to navigate the complex process of understanding the details of implementing distance learning for students, the focus must shift from what is directly in front of us to development of a long-term plan for delivering instructional programs, meals, and other supports to students. Whatever the plan, it will continue to impact the working conditions of employees. Public school employers have a duty to engage in good faith with their labor partners in discussing how to best serve their students and communities while also tending to the needs of their employees (see “Collective Bargaining During a Crisis” in the March 2020 Fiscal Report). In this uncharted journey, impact bargaining could prove to be difficult given the significant working condition changes triggered by the duration of the closures. LEAs are in this for the long haul, and it is unlikely they will be successful in serving their students and communities without the mutual support and cooperation of their labor partners.
In an effort to facilitate successful labor-management negotiations during this crisis, Governor Gavin Newsom released an advisory communication that provides a framework for bargaining locally. In the document, Framework for Labor-Management Collaboration: Serving Local Communities During the COVID-19 Emergency, recommendations are provided on key bargaining issues. The framework acknowledges that some labor-management groups already have agreements in place and indicates that it is in no way intended to disrupt those agreements. Key issues covered in the framework, in addition to compliance with Executive Order N-26-20, include:
- Compensation and benefits
- Determination of essential services
- Health and safety
- Communication practices
- Collaboration and engagement
The key organizations responsible for this correspondence are applauded for their collaborative effort in providing guidance for labor-management interactions. Keep in mind that this correspondence provides guidance and recommendations and is not a directive. Locally, labor-management groups will need to identify their unique challenges and how best to move forward together. There has never been a time, at least in our most recent history, where a deep commitment to collaboration, cooperation, and compromise has been more needed. We implore labor and management representatives to engage in collaborative decision making based upon clearly identified problems rooted in data, the identification of shared interests, and the generation of out-of-the box ideas and options evaluated against agreed upon criteria. It is more difficult than ever, but never more important, to avoid giving way to strong emotions or attacking individuals or groups during this time of crisis—now is the time to stand in solidarity, to do what is right for students and communities, and to support one another.