Teachers union representative: School labor board unnecessary

By Liliana Castillo: CNJ staff writer

The Clovis Municipal Schools creation of a labor management board Tuesday was in response to the National Education Association’s potential to seek collective bargaining, Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm said.

The National Education Association, a public sector union, came to Clovis in March to resurrect its following. Consultant Andres Becerra said the NEA was strong in Clovis about eight years ago when it had about 50 percent membership among teachers. Only 18 percent of Clovis’ teachers are members today, he said.

“We’ve spent the last few years trying to cultivate leaders,” Becerra said.

In the recent membership drive, NEA signed up about 120 members, bringing Clovis’ total to 240. CMS employs 639 teachers, according to personnel records.

Becerra said collective bargaining — in which NEA would negotiate work conditions with school officials — is at least two years away.

“I’ve told Dr. Seidenwurm that we are nowhere near collective bargaining,” he said Wednesday from his office in Roswell. “She has asked me point blank and that was always my answer.”

Seidenwurm said the school board is simply preparing for the future in creating a labor management board. The superintendent said the board will arbitrate procedure issues between a union and management. The local board will have the same kind of power of decision making that a state board would have, she said, meaning their decision is final.

“NEA had indicated to us that they have (collective bargaining) on their horizon so we’re trying to get things in place to handle those issues locally,” Seidenwurm said.

Seidenwurm said the board would serve as a mediator between the district and a union.

School board members brought in a consultant, John Martinez, to advise them on union issues.

Becerra said Martinez’s presence at Tuesday’s board meeting was upsetting.

“He’s there to tell them how to keep us out,” he said. “That’s not how we want our relationship with Clovis schools to be. But if they want a fight, they’ll get one.

“Right now, our plan is to create an internal organization within NEA Clovis. We need a full slate of officers, building representatives, and we need to train and mobilize them.

“We have no intention of going to collective bargaining right now. They’re putting the cart before the horse,” he said.

Becerra asked the school board not to create a labor management board during Tuesday’s board of education meeting, citing unnecessary costs to the district. Seidenwurm sees the request differently.

“NEA discourages districts from creating their own board because the state board is very pro-labor,” the superintendent said.

To create the labor relations board, the board considered two representatives from labor unions and a nominee from the superintendent. Rick Switzer with the railroad worker’s union nominated Larry Cocker, who is also with the union. NEA nominated former Clovis teacher Stephen Hays. The superintendent nominated longtime Clovis educator G.C. Ross.

The board voted on each of the candidates and President Lora Harlan appointed Larry Cocker and G.C. Ross as two of the three members that will make up the board.

Cocker and Ross will recommend the third member to the school board.

When the school board appointed Cocker as the labor nominee to the labor management board, Becerra said he was shocked.

“They didn’t let us know and did it very underhandedly in the process,” he said. “They didn’t contact us at all about their other labor rep.”

Becerra said he does not know the qualifications of Cocker,