Leaders of Columbus teachers union vote to issue 10-day notice of intent to strike

·4 min read
CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes speaks to the media after Columbus Education Association leaders  voted Thursday  to issue a 10-day notice of the union's intent to strike.
CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes speaks to the media after Columbus Education Association leaders voted Thursday to issue a 10-day notice of the union's intent to strike.

The Columbus Education Association's legislative assembly has unanimously voted to issue a 10-day notice of the union's intent to strike to Columbus City Schools after it held a members meeting Thursday.

The notice of intent to strike comes after bargaining sessions between the union and district ended in July, with the district giving its "final offer" and no bargaining sessions scheduled for this month.

CEA spokesperson Regina Fuentes said more than 2,500 of the union's nearly 4,500 members — which include teachers and other support staff — attended the meeting. The union did not disclose the number of members in its legislative assembly. The vote was closed to the public.

Fuentes said the union is asking for smaller class sizes; full-time art, music and physical education teachers; functioning heating and cooling systems in schools; giving teachers more planning time; a cap on the number of class periods in the day; and "other working conditions that recruit and retain the best educators for our students."

"The vote tonight is a vote of confidence in our bargaining team and our fight for safe properly maintained, fully-resourced schools in Columbus Public Schools," Fuentes said.

Columbus City Schools: District school board files unfair labor practice charge against union

Fuentes said from now until Aug. 11, the union can file its 10-day notice of its intent to strike with the State Employment Relations Board, and could end up striking as early as Aug. 22, which is the first day teachers return to work in the district. The union's members would then meet on Aug. 21 to vote on whether to officially initiate a strike.

"We don't want a strike, but our students, teachers and community deserve a contract that supports and bolsters learning conditions," Fuentes said. "Our vote tonight should send a strong message to the board to return to the bargaining table immediately."

In a statement Thursday night, Columbus City Schools Board president Jennifer Adair wrote that the board was disappointed that the CEA did not accept its contract offer and instead decided to vote on the 10-day notice of the union's intent to strike. Adair added that the district is prepared for an "alternate opening" if a strike takes place.

Adair said that the board continues to be concerned that CEA "has not bargained in good faith," and that it will continue to be committed to a resolution with the union, with the board planning to discuss the next steps with a federal mediator.

"A strike is disruptive and hurts our students most, especially after everything they have experienced over the last few years," Adair said in the statement. "Our students' academic progress and social emotional well-being will remain our top priorities."

On Friday afternoon, the Columbus City Schools Board of Education called a special meeting for Monday night.

"The Board will immediately "Recess into Executive Session ... to prepare for, conduct, or review negotiations or bargaining sessions with public employees concerning their compensation or other terms and conditions of their employment," according to a news release.

The last time the district went on strike was 1975.

The Columbus Education Association voted Thursday night to issue a 10-day notice of the union's intent to strike.
The Columbus Education Association voted Thursday night to issue a 10-day notice of the union's intent to strike.

Columbus City Schools claims union spread 'misinformation'

On Wednesday, the district announced that it would file an unfair labor practice charge against the union. Adair said at a media conference that the charge was due to the union spreading misconceptions about the district's "final" contract offer.

This included the union's claims that the the current final offer does not ensure updated HVAC systems in each building, does not address smaller class sizes and does not ensure working conditions that recruit and retain the best educators for the students.

Adair said the final offer addressed all of those issues, which included that high school teachers should teach no more than 150 students a day and included a phased class size reduction in younger grades.

"The board’s final offer also addresses our commitment to ensure that our buildings have power, heat, air conditioning, and water to create a learning environment that promotes the well-being of students and teachers," Adair said. The district previously released statements that it was using federal COVID-19 money to finish updating HVAC systems in schools.

Adair added that the offer given to the union at the end of July was not the district's "final, final offer."

Look back: Columbus schools says it's made 'final offer' on teacher's pact

Fuentes said on Thursday that the union has not directly heard from the district when it comes to scheduling dates to return to the bargaining table. Fuentes added that there is always a chance that negotiations could extend past the start of the school year if the district returns to bargaining, though the union's goal is to start the year normally.

"The teachers of Columbus City Schools want to be in the classroom," Fuentes said. "We love our students and the only reason we are doing any of this is because we want what is best for them."

Dispatch reporters Megan Henry and Cole Behrens contributed to this story

mylee@dispatch.com

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Columbus teachers union votes to issue 10-day notice to strike