Score one for the Belleville teachers’ union. A state labor agency determined that the Board of Education unfairly disciplined the union’s leader for expressing concern about the security system and should have gone to the bargaining table before implementing that system.
So concluded the state Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) in a June 25 ruling and, to drive home the point, the commissioners directed the BOE to post a 60- day notice as a kind of public confession that it erred.
BEA President Michael Mignone said he viewed the decision as “a validation of the association’s concerns as true. … Now the school board will have to negotiate terms for putting in cameras.”
Mignone said the board has 90 days to appeal the PERC ruling.
Stephen Edgington, counsel to the BOE, couldn’t be reached by press time.
The PERC commissioners opined that while the use of cameras “for the purpose of protecting people and property is a significant governmental interest which places the issue outside of the domain of negotiability,” as was the use of RFID (radio frequency ID) cards, “we find that under the circumstances of [the Belleville] case, the severable impact on the staff is negotiable.
“Negotiations over impact issues should encompass many of the valid concerns raised by the Association – including, but not limited to, the following:
• placement of cameras in the faculty lounges;
• designation of an area that would not be monitored by a camera within which teachers could meet with Association officers to discuss sensitive or confidential matters;
• notice procedures if camera recordings or data downloaded from the RFID cards will be used for employee discipline purposes, and procedures for access to such data;
• notice as to the period of retainment for camera recordings and data downloaded from the RFID cards;
• notice procedures for significant changes to the cameras or the RFID cards.”
The commissioners found that the BOE discriminated against Mignone by bringing tenure charges against him, partly in connection with public criticisms of the BOE’s security system actions.
And it sided with an arbitrator’s prior decision that while Mignone did engage in misconduct by allowing an association officer to listen in on a phone conversation with a special needs student’s parent, the penalty sought by the BOE was “disproportionate to the misconduct,” given Mignone’s otherwise clean record during 14 years of teaching.
Five PERC commissioners – Chairman P. Kelly Hatfield, John Eskilson, David Jones, Paula Voos and Richard Wall – affirmed the ruling. Paul Boudreau dissented and John Bonanni was absent.
– Ron Leir