Filed Under:  Education, Local, News

Teachers’ union files lawsuit against Jefferson Parish School Bd

21st October 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Michael Patrick Welch
Contributing Writer

On October 15, 2013, the Jefferson Federation of Teachers, bolstered by 12 other teachers, filed a joint lawsuit in the 24th Judicial District Court against the Jefferson Parish School Board, which they accuse of cutting teacher benefits, and other breaches of contract.

In May of 2013, it was perceived as injury to teachers when the JPSB voted 5-3 to ditch their previous collective bargaining agreement, in place since 1976. Many parishes in the state have teachers unions and yet lack collective bargaining agreements, meaning that those union members receive fewer protections and benefits. The JPSB then proceeded to draw up its own two-year contract for teachers to sign.These same teachers now feel insult being added to injury as the board fails to, as promised, “…maintain the current schedule of benefits for teachers…in the amounts contributed by the system that are in place at the date of the signing of this contract…”

This newest lawsuit alleges that the board has illegally reduced health benefits, specifically the promised level of dental, vision and life insurance benefits. Health insurance benefits that had previously been administered through the Jefferson Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Plan—a voluntary association run by the union and the board – have been handed over by the board to Ameritas Group Insurance, Humana and Hartford Insurance. Also axed in the process were the “flexible spending arrangement” accounts that some employees filled with pre-tax earnings to pay medical expenses.The new plans also charge co-pays for services, and do not reimburse for some formerly covered services. Along with reducing coverage, the board-contracted insurance reportedly increase costs to teachers. “The deal that the board made saved Jefferson Parish [a little money] per teacher,” claims union President Meladie Munch, “but teachers receive fewer benefits at higher cost, and cannot choose their own providers.” The board has allegedly also reduced its overall contribution to teacher benefits from $400 per teacher to $325.

“The old system wasn’t broken and didn’t need to be fixed,” says the union’s attorney Larry Samuel, who has had to sue the JPSB on the union’s behalf on other recent occasions: in 2011, 100 teachers were illegally laid off, and the board also imposed an unpaid furlough on teachers. The union won both of those cases. Another case still in play alleges illegal salary cuts to 12 ROTC instructors. Samuel adds, “Before this current board, I can’t remember the last time the union had to sue.”

Teachers have also in some cases reportedly been denied contractually promised “uninterrupted daily planning and preparation time…equal to the length of a class period.” Despite this contractual obligation, school administrators have demanded that some teachers continue supervising students during their planning time, or else utilize planning hours only on alternate days.

Lastly, though Jefferson Parish has, since 1981, paid teachers for up to 25 days of accrued sick leave whenever they left the system by any means, either voluntarily or involuntarily, the JPSB has recently decided that teachers who resign or are terminated are not entitled to accrued sick leave pay.

School Board President Larry Dale told the Advocate that the changes were made as part of a larger design to increase the number of employees covered from about 3,300 to 6,000, by also extending benefits to non-teaching employees in the school system, and those who work more than 20 hours a week.

The Jefferson Parish School Board was not immediately available for comment.

This article originally published in the October 21, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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