LOS LUNAS — The Los Lunas teachers union and school district haven’t been on the same page regarding a return to in-person learning.
NEA Los Lunas, which represents local educators, filed a prohibited practice complaint with the Public Employee Labor Relations Board, claiming the district has violated certain sections of the Public Employee Bargaining Act.
“We have been actively attempting to collaborate with the district regarding their plans for re-entry and are not opposed to many of their recommendations,” a statement from NEA Los Lunas to its members read. “However, the district has not, to this point, included us in any formal conversations or negotiations.”
The complaint, filed on Feb. 16, says the district failed to include the union in any discussions about reentry. Citing sections of the PEBA in the complaint, NEA Los Lunas said the two parties should bargain terms and conditions of employment as well as “the impact of professional and instructional decisions made by the employer,” among other issues.
Union president Margo Rivera, a counselor with the district, said up to this point no negotiations have taken place and the union doesn’t “have a seat at the table” when it comes to discussing possible reentry to in-person learning. The last time the two parties bargained, she said, was in September 2020 for annual negotiations.
Los Lunas Schools Superintendent Arsenio Romero said he is aware of the complaint but declined to comment on the union’s grievance.
According to the complaint, NEA Los Lunas provided the district a draft of a memorandum of understanding last July in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. The union claims former interim superintendent Walt Gibson “refused” to negotiate an agreement “because of his interim status.”
Earlier this year, and with a new superintendent leading the district, the two parties met on Jan. 18, when the union discussed the importance of bargaining the decision to begin hybrid learning.
Another meeting on Feb. 1 was supposed to take place between Romero, Deputy Superintendent Brian Baca and the union, but Romero didn’t attend. A day later — the same day a special board of education meeting was held to consider reentry — the union submitted a written request to the district to discuss a return to hybrid learning.
Though the Los Lunas Board of Education voted to remain in a remote model, two days later the union submitted another written request demanding the district bargain with them. On Feb. 5, Romero informed NEA Los Lunas he would direct the district’s bargaining team to get in touch with the union to go over dates.
NEA Los Lunas followed up on Feb. 10 with the district about possible dates for bargaining, but a day later were told that moving to a hybrid model was not a change in the terms and conditions of employment because the “return to teaching in a classroom is the condition under which employees were hired and the collective bargaining agreement was negotiated.”
The union, in the complaint, said because members and district employees have been in a remote model since the beginning of the school year, “any decision to alter the remote-learning model and move to a hybrid model, involving some level of in-person instruction, is a per se change in the terms and conditions of employment and will necessarily affect employees.”
The statement from NEA Los Lunas mentions 70 percent of teachers are willing to go back for in-person learning after having received the COVID-19 vaccine. The union said they also support teachers who want to go back voluntarily.
“It is our goal to make that transition occur safely and, in the best interest of all involved, while adding members’ voices to that process,” part of the statement reads.
Two special board of education meetings have been held since the union has tried to discuss bargaining with the district — on Feb. 2 and Feb. 16. Both meetings ended with the board voting to remain in a remote model. The board will hold another special meeting on Tuesday, March 2 to review the district’s learning plan.
Belen NEA President Royceann LaFayette, a counselor for Belen Consolidated Schools, said the union has been actively involved in the reopening conversation with BCS administrators.
“We have a (memorandum of understanding) in place this year due to COVID-19 and the pandemic,” LaFayette said. “Stated in the MOU is that members from Belen NEA’s executive team will meet monthly with Belen district administrators as a COVID response team.”
The MOU was amended this semester to include reopening of the schools as part of the response team’s purview.
“We are now meeting weekly to plan and progress towards the reopening of schools in Belen,” LaFayette said. “We are part of the conversation. We are not the only part of the equation, nor are we the deciding factor. The school board, with a recommendation from the superintendent, will make the decision of when and what dates to return.”
(Assistant Editor Julia M. Dendinger contributed to this article.)