DANVILLE — The Danville school board will try to block a Danville Education Association petition asking the state to allow its two units to merge and operate under one contract.
Superintendent Mark Denman said the district received notice of the petition several days ago. It has until Monday to file its objection with the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Board.
"We will be filing an objection," Denman said. "Our board, from the beginning, has felt there's a different community of interest between the two units."
The DEA, which represents about 630 employees and is currently in a contract dispute with the school board, filed its petition to merge on Aug. 1 after consulting with Illinois Education Association attorneys. Officials said granting the petition would allow the DEA to truly operate as one unit, as it has wanted to do since secretaries and learning-resource clerks joined the association more than 20 years ago.
The school board challenged the DEA's original request to organize employees as one unit back in 1989. It was then that the state labor board ruled that the association have two contracts — one for teachers and teaching assistants, and another for secretaries and learning-resource clerks.
"At the time, the DEA was asking for a wall-to-wall unit, so any group that wasn't already organized would be a part of it," said Robin Twidwell, the association's president. "The cooks weren't organized, so the labor board decided we needed to have two separate contracts."
Eventually, food service workers organized as the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399, AFL-CIO, Twidwell pointed out.
"Now we don't see any reason why the labor board wouldn't agree as long as our membership agrees to this," she said, adding DEA represents discussed the matter with secretaries, and the employees support the petition. "We've always viewed ourselves as one unit
Denman and school board President Bill Dobbles said that issue may have been part of the reason for the state labor board's ruling. But, they recalled, the primary reason was the two groups' interests and work issues were significantly different, hence the need for two separate contracts.
If the board blocks the DEA's latest petition, the association's membership won't get a say in the matter.
Currently, members are working under contracts that expired on June 30. The agreements were settled in September 2010 following a three-day strike.
The board and association exchanged proposals for new agreements in April. But negotiations have been stalled because the two sides haven't been able to agree on bargaining session dates, and each blames the other for that.
Board officials accused the DEA of stalling talks to get them to change the way the board decided to negotiate. In the past, the board and association each have had one negotiating team, and the teams have bargained both contracts. But this year, the board decided to have two negotiating teams and to bargain each contract separately.
Board officials said they offered 19 possible meeting dates over the summer. But teams negotiating the teacher/teaching assistant contract have met only once, and teams negotiating the other contract haven't met at all.
DEA officials accused the board of trying to divide the association. They said despite repeated requests, the board has refused to schedule talks for both contracts on the same day.
Each side has filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state labor board to resume talks.
DEA officials said they don't need to be forced to come to the table; the two sides just need to agree on meeting dates.
"I think I would be optimistic (about settling the contracts) if Bill would contact me, and the two of us could sit down and agree on some dates," Twidwell said. "We need to meet and settle a fair contract so we can make sure our attention is focused on the students in the district."
"I would be more than happy to talk to Robin — anything to help move the process along," Dobbles said later. "It's time to get together and start bargaining."