State Superintendent Issues “Framework for Labor-Management Collaboration: Serving Local Communities During the COVID-19 Emergency”

CATEGORY: Special Bulletins
CLIENT TYPE: Public Education
AUTHOR: Laura Schulkind
PUBLICATION: LCW Special Bulletin
DATE: Apr 08, 2020

On April 1, 2020, State Superintendent of Public Instruction (“SPI”), Tony Thurmond, issued a “Framework for Labor-Management Collaboration: Serving Local Communities During the COVID-19 Emergency” (“The Framework”).  The SPI developed this joint document in collaboration with representatives for Governor Gavin Newson, as well as a broad-based group of organizations including the California School Boards Association, the Association of California School Administrators, and the major statewide unions that represent school employees.  The document is intended to support labor-management collaboration for K-12 districts and unions navigating the unique challenges of COVID-19.

Summary of Key Points

The Framework cites to Governor Newsom’s Executive Order N-26-20 as support for the principles it articulates. However, The Framework itself, is an advisory document—not a law, regulation, or order. The key principles it articulates include:

  • All pay and benefits shall continue through the 2019-2020 budget year. “This should include temporary, hourly, exempt and non-exempt, as well as probationary employees as LEAs determine they would otherwise have been paid during this period of closure.”
  • Districts should consult with exclusive representatives and follow public health directives when making determinations regarding “Essential Services”;
  • Leave entitlements are subject to Executive Orders, current law, regulations, and guidance. The Framework suggests employees should not have accrued leave deducted for reasons related to the COVID-19 crisis such as health or childcare issues.

The Framework also addresses principles to guide work functions during closure, including:

  • Districts should work with exclusive representatives to address public health concerns:
  • Districts should continue to deliver education through distance learning or other appropriate means;
  • Meals should continue to be provided to students in need;
  • Districts should work with teachers to arrange for student supervision during school hours to the extent practical;
  • Emergency declarations have not suspended obligations to bargain with exclusive representatives.

Lastly, the Framework provides principles related to public health directives:

  • Districts shall to the extent practical acquire adequate personal protective equipment such as gloves, masks, soap, and sanitizer for open classrooms and assignments. Districts shall consult with exclusive representatives regarding appropriate training;
  • Districts should collaborate with city and county officials and be guided by public health authorities;
  • Exclusive representatives should be treated as partners regarding information gathering, developing plans, and decision making;
  • Regular communication should be provided to employees, students, families, and exclusive representatives. Employees should notify the district if they have been exposed to COVID-19 or require special consideration due to risk factors.

What does the Framework mean for Labor Relations?

The Framework encourages a collaborative partnership across the bargaining table to guide districts and unions in reaching local agreements. It articulates principles that support positive labor relationship that should be valued by both management and labor—such as transparency and operating from shared interests.

However, Districts and labor organizations should keep in mind that the Framework is advisory not binding. This is true despite the fact the word “shall” appears from time to time throughout the document. Although this document was also announced by the Governor’s Office, it is not an executive order.  Thus, the Framework is not a substitute for local negotiations.

The document explicitly states it is not intended to disrupt any agreements districts already reached with employee organizations.  Rather, local economic factors, community needs, and other factors will continue to be relevant as districts implement emergency measures, and unions and districts address how these measures are to be implemented and their impacts on employee working conditions.

Further, while the principles provide what may be a useful roadmap for labor relations generally, we note that it was prepared by the superintendent over the state’s public K-12 public school system, and endorsed by statewide K-12 professional organizations. It is not binding for California’s community colleges. This is true despite the document’s reference to K-14.