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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Nashua school custodial union doesn’t want its grievances ‘laid out in the press’

NASHUA – Representatives of the School District’s custodial union walked out of a nonpublic session with the Board of Education last week, after board members could not promise the content of the meeting would be kept out of the newspapers.

The representatives of AFSCME Local 365, Chapter Chair Donna Grady and Chief Steward Jason Guerette, requested the discussion, held at the end of the board’s regular meeting Nov. 13, be done behind closed doors to discuss a grievance filed by a union member. ...

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NASHUA – Representatives of the School District’s custodial union walked out of a nonpublic session with the Board of Education last week, after board members could not promise the content of the meeting would be kept out of the newspapers.

The representatives of AFSCME Local 365, Chapter Chair Donna Grady and Chief Steward Jason Guerette, requested the discussion, held at the end of the board’s regular meeting Nov. 13, be done behind closed doors to discuss a grievance filed by a union member.

Once in the nonpublic session, however, board President Robert Hallowell said the meeting would still be recorded, and board members would determine afterward whether the minutes of the meeting should be sealed or made a public document, as required under the state Right to Know law.

This did not sit well with the union representatives.

“I don’t want it laid out in the press, OK?” said Grady, according to minutes released this week. “I’d like to go on record saying that … the union has a concern with the way the school board portrays Local 365 to the press. I don’t want it happening any more.”

Superintendent Mark Conrad said Monday that he doesn’t think the grievance itself is a public document, since it was never heard at the board level. The grievance paperwork was handed out to the board but never discussed, after the union representatives declined to talk about the issue and left the meeting.

Conrad said the grievance did not involve a personnel issue, and that minutes of a discussion about the complaint would not have been sealed.

At last Tuesday’s meeting, however, Grady specifically requested that any discussion about the grievance not be released to The Telegraph.

“And will you provide The Telegraph with what went on here today?” Grady asked at the meeting.

“By law, we’ll have to,” Hallowell replied, according to the minutes.

Grady did not respond to requests for comment this week.

Hallowell, however, said the board probably should not have entered into a nonpublic session at all, describing the grievance as a “contract issue.”

“We’re trying to follow the Right to Know law and be as transparent as possible, which is what Right to Know is supposed to do,” Hallowell said. “There is no ill will toward the union; we’re just trying to be within the law here … we’re trying to be careful to make sure that we only use that when necessary.”

While the board voted 8-1 last week not to seal the minutes of the nonpublic session, some board members said they understood the union’s concern about grievance hearings being open to the public.

“It appears to me that we have a need to discuss or at least have the opportunity to let people get something off their chest, and in a setting that’s not immediately reflected in the press,” board member Tom Vaughan said at the meeting.

The custodial union files far more grievances than any of the other five School District unions.

Of the 16 grievances filed by School District unions in the 2009-10 school year that rose to the level of the superintendent, all but one was filed by the custodial union.

Still, Conrad said Monday that he was not surprised by the union’s reaction to the news that the latest grievance may not be kept private.

For many years, he said, the board would always ask union representatives if they wanted to hold grievance hearings in nonpublic session.

In recent years, however, the board has taken a closer look at their reasons for going into nonpublic, and have made an effort to only do so when required by law, Conrad said.

“This is just an approach that is new to the union, and I think it caught them by surprise,” he said.

Conrad has spoken with city attorney Stephen Bennett, who will provide the board with a written opinion on last week’s debate, and that Bennett confirmed the district’s point of view: that the board should only go into a nonpublic meeting, and seal the minutes of such a meeting, if the discussion pertains to an individual’s job performance, hiring or firing.

The grievance that was expected to be heard last week did not meet those criteria, Conrad said.

He said he will have a conversation with union representatives about Bennett’s findings, and work to come to an agreement to move forward with the grievance and other similar issues in the future.

“It comes down to what is the board required to do to meet the requirements of the Right to Know law,” Conrad said. “Whether or not we’d prefer to have conversations in private, the board still understands they have to be governed through that law … if (the grievance) is brought before the board, it will be brought in public session.”

Danielle Curtis can be reached at 594-6557 or dcurtis@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Curtis on Twitter (Telegraph_DC).