By Graig Graziosi
The Youngstown Education Association has filed an unfair labor practice charge against Youngstown City Schools CEO Krish Mohip, who is offering the teachers raises.
YEA claims in its charge, though, that Mohip is engaging in public bargaining through the manipulation of local media, including The Vindicator, to misrepresent the facts at the heart of an ongoing war of words between YEA President Larry Ellis and him over reopening teachers’ contracts.
The announcement of the filing Monday came on the same day the union had a special meeting to discuss how to proceed regarding Mohip’s offer of pay raises. The YEA is not willing to reopen the contract.
School district spokeswoman Denise Dick responded to the filing by saying: “It’s convenient that YEA is filing the ULP concerning bargaining in the media, considering a union VP, Paula Valentini, gave a quote to The Vindicator in January pressuring Mohip to give teachers raises, not to mention Larry’s press release concerning the 5 percent offer last Wednesday,” Dick said.
She also said the school district had not yet determined a course of action in response to the union filing and is consulting its own legal counsel.
The YEA argues that Mohip has used the media to forward a distorted narrative and apply public pressure to the union, and thus is engaging in public bargaining.
The conflict is centered around raises for teachers and the implementation of House Bill 70, which put Mohip in control of the district as CEO under the auspices of a state academic distress commission.
In essence, Mohip wants to reopen negotiations for the purpose of giving teachers a 5 percent raise in addition to the 2 percent raise already promised in their contract. Ellis will accept the raise if it comes on a “nonprecedent setting basis.” His central fear is that Mohip will reopen the contracts for the sake of accelerating the implementation of HB 70.
HB 70 gives Mohip the authority to “reopen any collective-bargaining agreement entered into, modified, renewed or extended on or after the effective date of this section for the purpose of renegotiation its terms.”
Mohip believes that provision of HB 70 already gives him permission to reopen negotiations with the YEA, evidenced by an email Mohip sent to Ellis last Wednesday saying that he was going to open the negotiations regardless of Ellis’ objection. Mohip believes that because the YEA’s most recent contract was implemented after the 2015 implementation of HB 70, he can reopen negotiations regardless of the union’s wishes.
“I can only assume you refused to change the [collective-bargaining agreement] to increase the pay of our teachers because the current leadership of YEA does not want our strategic plan to succeed,” the CEO wrote to Ellis. “I have tried to work with you, but you’ve chosen not to collaborate, so, after consulting with the chairperson of the academic distress commission, I have decided to reopen the ... Successor Collective Bargaining Agreement for the purpose of negotiating its terms.”
In a response to Mohip, a letter from the YEA’s legal counsel Green, Haines and Sgambati rejected his interpretation, arguing that HB 70 should not be in effect until the 2018-19 school year based on the definition of “school years.”
The letter went on to reiterate the union’s central fear regarding the situation: that Mohip intends to accelerate the implementation of HB 70.
“If the Association succumbs to your attempts at public pressure and agrees to reopen the Agreement now, it would accelerate the application of HB 70 and ultimately, your ability to designate any provision of the Agreement as being subject to reopening ... this is not simply about raises.”
Despite these charges, Ellis said the union is willing to meet with Mohip at any time and will await his response to its labor complaint.
“However, the YEA is not willing to open the contract,” Ellis said.
He also said he wanted to stop having public negotiations with Mohip.
Mohip notified Ellis of his intent to give the teachers a raise in a May 4 letter proposing to reopen collective-bargaining negotiations. In his letter, Mohip said he considered the YEA’s argument that the district can’t recruit and retain teachers due to low salaries and has decided to provide an increase. He emphasized throughout the back-and-forth with Ellis over the reopening of negotiations that he expects nothing in return for the raises but the teachers’ continued work.
However, according to a statement attached to the union’s complaint, Ellis alleged that Mohip originally offered to give the raise only in exchange for “all management rights” of the contracts at an April meeting.
“We recognize the need to recruit and retain teachers in many ways including increasing salaries; however, it cannot come with the loss of all management rights,” Ellis said in a news release last week.