Lyle facing legal issues for unfair labor practices

Published 11:20 am Friday, February 17, 2012

The Lyle Public School board faces legal issues after a Minnesota School Employees Association representative told board members they committed an unfair labor practice when they approved two employees’ pay raises earlier this week.

John Rostad, MSEA field representative, told board members about the issue after their special session Thursday night, appearing to cast blame on Superintendent Jim Dusso for not properly informing the board they were in violation of a Status Quo order put forth by the new union for non-certified Lyle employees.

“We have an unfair labor practice that’s going on here,” Rostad told board members Jerry Sampson and Brandon Slowinski. “… That puts me as a field rep and the school board in bad spots because of lack of sharing information.”

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The school’s non-certified staff, which includes food and nutrition workers, bus drivers, paraprofessionals and secretaries, unionized as part of the MSEA on Dec. 13, 2011, after working toward unionization for three months.

The group organized in September after about three weeks of discussion, as former Austin paraprofessional Holly Murphy started work in the district. Murphy said it took her about three weeks to get about 15 employees interested in unionization, or almost all of the non-certified staff.

Rostad said Lyle employees gave several reasons for wanting a union, including superiors questioning employee integrity, quick suspensions, terminations and resignations, along with swift paraprofessional schedule changes.

“The non-certified staff started to have issues happen almost right away at (the beginning of) the school year,” Rostad said.

Once the MSEA filed a petition on Sept. 28 to organize a union with the state Bureau of Mediation Services on Lyle employees’ behalf, the district came under a Status Quo order, meaning non-certified staff couldn’t have changes to their schedule, pay and benefits among other things since the union hadn’t been officially formed or worked out a contract with the district.

Rostad and Murphy allege the board violated the Status Quo order when they approved a raise for two non-certified staff Monday. Furthermore, Rostad said Dusso should have been aware of that as he met with non-certified staff several times while they formed a union. Since the district hasn’t drawn up a formal contract with the union, the order should still stand.

“This is something that should have been known,” Rostad said.

Dusso said he had forgotten about the Status Quo order when he came up with the recommendations and wanted to give raises to the custodians for their hard work.

“I completely forgot about the MSEA,” he said Friday morning. “It was an honest mistake.”

Dusso said Rostad brought the issue to his attention in an unprofessional manner and Dusso made recommendations to the board afterward.

Rosten said he has tried to start contract negotiations with the district but hasn’t received the necessary information from Dusso.

Both Sampson and Slowinski said they didn’t have much information about the union before the board approved the raises for the two employees.

“We depended on the knowledge and instruction of the superintendent,” Sampson said. “We made a bad mistake and we’re admitting it.”

Though Rostad told the board the MSEA could take the district to court, he said the board has to either give all non-certified employees a 4.5 percent raise — roughly the same percentage increase the board approved Monday — or rescind the raise.

Dusso didn’t attend Thursday night’s meeting, but said he had previously recommended the board rescind the raises.