Dueling unions fight to represent SAISD teachers

San Antonio AllianceUncategorized

BY MARIA LUISA CESAR : MAY 13, 2014 : Updated: May 13, 2014 10:14pm

SAN ANTONIO — The local chapter of the Association of Texas Professional Educators will take its concerns to Education Commissioner Michael Williams after San Antonio Independent School District trustees denied its attempt to get the district to fight a decades-old federal court injunction requiring it to consult exclusively with a single elected teachers group.

The board voted unanimously to deny the Level III grievance brought by local ATPE presidentTina Briones that had sought a board decision to go back to court to try to dissolve the injunction put in place in 1983.

A judge that year had found SAISD board members who removed the exclusive consultation arrangement did so to retaliate against the Texas State Teachers Association.

TSTA members had campaigned for other board candidates in 1982.

The policy allows only one elected teachers’ union — currently the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel — the right to lobby the school board or district officials on behalf of employees. It also allows the group to use a districtwide mail system to disseminate information.

The system’s defenders argue that the teachers’ group is chosen by employee election and required to represent the views and concerns of nonmembers.

Opponents argue that the policy limits representation and is coercive, driving membership to the elected teacher’s group and setting a high bar for any other group to replace it.

SAISD is the only school district in Texas with a court-ordered policy and one of only a handful in the state that still uses an exclusive consultation model, an ATPE attorney noted.

The Alliance filed an intervention to the grievance and both sides had 15 minutes to present their points Monday before trustees went into closed session, making their way past rows of Alliance members in blue shirts and ATPE members in red.

The ATPE claims to represent about 12 percent of SAISD employees and the Alliance claims to represent about 40 percent — and both groups expressed skepticism about how the other calculated its membership.

“We believe in inclusivity and they believe in exclusivity,” Briones said of the Alliance, adding that the Alliance represents fewer kinds of district employees than the ATPE.

The Alliance is the local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers and another union it merged with some years ago, the Texas State Teachers Association.

Alliance President Shelley Potter told the board her organization is responsible for representing all voices equally and presented documentation showing its meetings have been well attended by nonmembers.

“If they’re feeling alienated, it’s because they have chosen to exclude themselves,” she said of ATPE organizers.

Potter said any group can challenge the elected union by securing petition signatures of 40 percent of the employees during even-numbered years, and that the last time that happened, in 1996, the ATPE lost the resulting election.

Briones said she doesn’t want her group to have exclusive rights to consult with the district and said it should be open to all teacher groups.