JCPS criticized for 'stall tactic' over food and nutrition workers' request to join union
JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens called the situation a miscommunication but the workers say they feel slighted and that the district is stalling because they don't want them to be represented by a union.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A resolution from nearly 700 school and community nutrition workers in Jefferson County Public Schools seeking to join a local union hit a snag this week when they showed up at a school board meeting to be recognized, only to find out that they were not put on the agenda.
Superintendent Donna Hargens called the situation a miscommunication and said she would take "personal responsibility...to make sure we proceed appropriately." But the workers say they feel slighted and that the district is stalling because they don't want them to be represented by a union.
"We were under the impression that (this) was going to happen to tonight," said Deborah Garcia, an AFSCME director who addressed the school board on Tuesday night. "I know it’s been said there is a miscommunication. However, I find that very hard to believe."
Bo Johnson, a representative of the Jefferson County Association of Educational Support Personnel/AFSCME Local 4011, submitted the union cards during an Oct. 25 school board meeting and asked for JCPS to recognize the workers as official AFSCME members.
Garcia said she emailed a copy of a resolution recognizing the workers to board members and district leaders and then called the board secretary on Nov. 17, asking for a copy of the resolution to be included on Tuesday's agenda.
"We came tonight for the first reading of recognition for our food and nutrition service employees," she said. "I really would like to request that you reconsider…and do the first reading tonight and take a vote on the recognition. I don't understand why this would be a complicated process."
"Surely you don't want to treat the food and nutrition service employees any differently than any other employees who are already recognized by unions," Garcia said, adding that some workers are "already starting to feel that way."
"We feel this is a stall tactic for them not to be recognized," she said.
Board member Lisa Willner made a motion for the board to have the first reading of the resolution on Tuesday, but Hargens said that made her feel uncomfortable.
"You would be approving something that you haven't recently seen, if you even opened that email or that management hasn't looked at and recommended to you for a first reading," Hargens said.
"I have to be honest with you, if the email was circulated, management didn't spend time, didn't have legal review, didn't have HR review, didn't have finance review it," Hargens said. "I want to support what you are saying but we have not read the actual document and that’s making me uncomfortable."
JCPS chief business officer Tom Hudson said to his knowledge, "we haven't seen the resolution."
Hudson said his staff has reviewed the process for allowing the workers to join the union with legal staff, but "we have more homework to do before we would come forward with this."
"We have due diligence to do," he said. "There are 700 cards. We have questions…are these truly the members? I am not suggesting that we are opposed to this in any way, shape or form but we would be remiss…if we didn't go through due diligence (on this)."
Board member Chris Brady asked Hudson how long he has had the cards.
"Six weeks," Hudson responded, which prompted groans from the audience.
Julie Martin, president of the Jefferson County School Nutrition Association, spoke of her frustration at Tuesday's meeting.
"They were hand delivered at the board meeting and we asked at that time for them to be looked at so our staff can be recognized under AFSCME so that we have representation under a union," Martin said, adding that 690 nutrition workers (out of 800) have signed the cards.
"There is a reason why those cards have been signed," Martin told board members.
Brady asked Hudson if he can have the first reading of the resolution brought back to the board at its next meeting on Dec. 13.
"We will give it our best shot," Hudson said.
"You have had it for a long time, at least four weeks," Brady said. "I highly recommend that someone burns some midnight oil...because this should have been done. I remember them coming to present it, I kept looking for it on the agenda."
School board vice-chairwoman Diane Porter said the expectation is to "have something before this board that we will have opportunity to look at prior to that time for a first reading."
Porter also apologized for the confusion and miscommunication.
"Again, I regret this has happened the way this has happened," she said.
Ron Richmond, a communications director for AFSCME, said the workers are "simply asking for the formal recognition."
"To claim that we forged signatures or have cards that are fakes is insulting," Richmond said. "It's no wonder they want to relax hiring rules if this is how they treat the employees they have. I think this speaks volumes to recruiting and retaining talent."
Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.
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