The bargaining unit president for Tulsa Public Schools support employees rejected the notion that union leaders are responsible for declining the district’s proposed pay increase.
On Friday evening, Superintendent Deborah Gist emailed a statement to district employees saying leaders of the local American Federation of Teachers turned down an offer for support staff raises. The contract dispute has led to an impasse in the district’s annual negotiations with AFT, which represents the 2,600 support employees at TPS.
AFT-Tulsa President Ed McIntosh rebuked the superintendent’s statement this week, saying union members made a collective decision to reject the offer because “we felt like we deserve better.”
“Deborah Gist alluded to the leadership of this local (chapter) deciding to take this to impasse,” McIntosh said. “I want to emphatically disagree with that statement here and now. That was not done only by the leadership. The membership decided that what the district was offering is unacceptable.”
In an informal vote during a meeting with the AFT negotiating committee, members largely supported rejecting the district’s offer. The union hosted a second meeting for all support personnel on Saturday and received a unanimous response from the more than 30 employees who attended, McIntosh said.
Contract negotiations began in the early summer and resulted in TPS offering an approximately 1.5% raise for support employees, according to a statement released by the district Tuesday evening.
When the support union initially proposed a 6% raise, the district eventually offered a raise of 30 cents per hour, which represents more than a 2% average pay increase.
“AFT rejected that as well, insisting on almost twice that (50 cents/hour),” the statement reads. “This just isn’t doable or realistic, especially since we have typically paid a rise of 1.5% in recent years.”
Meanwhile, district officials are wrapping up negotiations with the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association on how to implement the state-mandated $1,200 salary increase for educators. Gist said they’re unable to provide larger raises for support employees because of the district’s looming $20 million budget shortfall and the lack of funding from the Legislature.
But McIntosh said he and other AFT members believe TPS is able to pay the amount they’re asking without “breaking the bank.”
“We’re not out to burn the district down,” he said. “That’s not what our plan is. We are trying to have a decent settlement for the support personnel of the district.”
Now both sides must go through the state’s procedures for resolving impasses, which involve establishing a three-person fact-finding committee.
Tulsa school board members will select a representative to serve on the committee during a special meeting Thursday, while AFT will choose its own representative. The Oklahoma State Board of Education will aid the two parties in selecting a chairperson from its list of fact-finders.
Per state statute, the committee must present written recommendations to the Tulsa school board and support union within 20 days of the chairperson being selected.
An impasse between the union and the district last occurred in 2010 after TPS proposed multiple offers that were much lower than what AFT wanted. The dispute ended three months later with a deal that closely resembled the district’s final offer.
McIntosh said support workers have experienced “some rough times” with TPS, noting years where they did not receive any raise.
“But we hung in there during that time, and we stayed fast,” he said. “What I’ve found since my tenure in this position is that most of the support personnel would work without necessarily getting a raise because they enjoy the jobs that they do. I think the district has taken advantage of that to a point.”