The nurses' grievance originally filed with the Amphitheater Public Schools District Sept. 19 has been withdrawn following information disclosed during a July 17 mediation session and in response to an agreement made after that meeting between the union's representative and district counsel.
The agreement - which some members of both the management and union sides said had been decided during contract negotiations in May - allows principals to ask or require nurses to work up to 10 extra days during school registration in return for an equal number of days in flex-time during the year.
Nurses are salaried employees who do not qualify for compensatory-time under the federal wage and hour laws, said Jim Slingluff, organizational consultant for the Arizona Education Association, but they can use flextime if agreed to by the employer. The grievance concerned the district's eight nurses working without pay during registration for the 2002-2003 school year. Amphi originally denied it in December, at which point the Amphi Education Association requested mediation from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
On Jan. 9, Amphi and the AEA agreed through mediation that the grievance would be handled as a negotiation during spring salary talks. Those talks failed to reach an agreement and it was returned to mediation with Slingluff as the local union's advocate.
Slingluff said a mediation meeting July 17 again failed in helping the parties reach an agreement, but "it led to information that helped us settle the issue … we withdrew the grievance in return for the agreement."
"The part that was stunning and frustrating for me was to find out during mediation that at least some of each team had thought this had already been agreed to in negotiations (in May). This is a fault of the bargaining process they use," Slingluff said. "There is no sign-off on each agreement. In traditional collective bargaining, anytime parties agree to something, someone from each party signs off on it, so there is a paper record of what was exactly decided. When I was brought into this, I received the information that management had rejected this proposal out of hand … in mediation I found out that was erroneous information."
So, "in a snowstorm of e-mails" between Todd Jaeger, Amphi assistant to the superintendent and district counsel, and himself, Slingluff said Jaeger explained that what the nurses were asking for - 10 extra contract days with flextime during the year - had been "left on the bargaining table" by union representation.
"Of course, I do believe that if management was really willing to do it, they wouldn't have left it on the table either," said Slingluff. "When I checked with some of the (union) people who had been at negotiations, some of them said it had been on the table as well. I was confused because it became clear to me that this was a confused situation. But as we talked back and forth (via e-mail) we discovered that both parties were agreeable to this decision (of flextime) and we agreed we would drop the grievance in return for this."
Jaeger said July 23 that he had e-mailed the principals of all schools with nurses on site - Amphi's three high school and five middle schools - and informed them of the decision. The district does not have nurses at its elementary schools, Jaeger said, but does have a full-time nurse coordinator who oversees health aides at those schools.
Registration at both high schools started July 21. Jaeger said if a nurse has worked some of those days before principals were notified "with the principal's permission or at the principal's request" the flextime decision will apply to them.
"However, a nurse can't just show up and work without permission or without being asked," and expect to get the flextime, he said.
Jaeger said this agreement "allows principals to determine if they need the nurses and if so, it is only fair they get flextime for those days."
Terry Clark, a nurse at Ironwood Ridge High School who has been involved in the grievance from the beginning, said district nurses "were grateful the district considered us important enough to be at registration that they settled the grievance." She added that nurses had been at all the schools during registration hours July 21 through July 31.
"The thing that is important is for people to realize we do more than just put on band-aids," Clark said. "Many times we are the first and only medical person in a student's life. We can't spend the first eight or 10 days of school doing paper work, we have to be ready on day one … if the first day is an Ozone advisory, we need to know who all the asthmatics are that day to be prepared. If we are at registration we can do all the paperwork for students then, get medicine and reassure parents that their (children) will be OK once school starts."
Slingluff said the whole grievance process left him frustrated, since he is used to dealing with traditional labor relations collective bargaining.
"This whole issue was mutual mistakes by assumption," Slingluff said. "It is not often you see the equivalent of "The Perfect Storm" in a screwed-up bargaining situation, but this was it … people were in the same room discussing the same thing and somehow they came out with different assumptions. I view the main culprit here as a bargaining structure that doesn't' include signing off on every single agreement."
Slingluff said his advice to the local union was going to be changing the "interest-based, win-win bargaining" to include mandatory signing off on every particular in an agreement.
Jaeger said he thinks management might be in favor of that suggestion as well.
"We don't want to make it more complicated," he said. "In interest-based bargaining, there are notes taken, sort of a running minutes, as terms are agreed to. I guess it would be simple enough for them to agree to sign off on them as they are agreed to. Our bargaining process is designed to be a little less formal and we don't want it to get bogged down with too much detail. But if it would help avoid this problem, I'm all for it."