Algernon D’Ammassa, Las Cruces Sun-News
Published 6:02 p.m. MT Jan. 15, 2020
NEA-Las Cruces is seeking compensation for extra hours teachers have worked while technology is restored
LAS CRUCES – The union representing teachers in the Las Cruces Public Schools will file a complaint with the state’s labor board, NEA leaders confirmed Wednesday.
NEA-Las Cruces, the local chapter, had asked the district to reopen collective bargaining to address compensation for teachers who have had to work outside contract hours and purchase personal equipment in order to access internet and wireless technologies required for their work, while the district recovers from a cyber attack that disabled networks across the district.
The district responded in writing last Friday stating that it would not reopen contract negotiations without first going through a joint committee process allowing the parties to research the impacts of the October ransomware attack on teachers and propose solutions.
Deputy Superintendent Gabe Jacquez, answering on behalf of the district, argued in the Jan. 10 letter that issue was best addressed by the committee process, which is provided for in the collective bargaining agreement. Jacquez recommended a Memorandum of Understanding committee as “more immediately impactful” although a longer-term study committee was also an option.
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“In my opinion, the MOU Committee will complement the (board of education’s) plan to hold special board meeting(s) to study the districtwide impact and address the concerns within its authority including through policy and the budget,” Jacquez wrote.
In an interview Wednesday afternoon, Jacquez said the committee allows both parties to “take a look at what’s the impact that we’re talking about and talk through … some proposed remedies or suggestions to help support our teachers.”
However, union leaders say the recommendation is a stalling tactic. The MOU committee could take up to 90 days, delaying negotiations on extra compensation until bargaining opens for the next contract.
“We’re saying this is an emergency, and we need to open specifically compensation,” NEA-Las Cruces president Denise Sheehan said.
Sheehan said the union has delivered formal requests to bargain and even submitted proposals for compensation, but they had been turned down. The union will claim that the district’s refusal to bargain constitutes a prohibited labor practice under the law.
Reached by phone, interim superintendent Karen Trujillo said the district had agreed to accommodations requested by the union. These included extending the deadline for teachers to enter grades in January, asking school secretaries to assist with data entry and allowing teachers to use scheduled professional development days to catch up with documentation and other tasks.
Jacquez acknowledged there was “confusion” at some school sites, which proceeded with planned professional development activities on Jan. 6, but he said it was straightened out promptly after teachers notified central office.
Additionally, Trujillo said two additional technicians have been hired to help IT staff with the process of scrubbing some 30,000 computers across all district sites and installing new servers and cybersecurity hardware.
Mary Parr-Sánchez, president of NEA-New Mexico, said the collective bargaining agreement permitted the union to demand bargaining. “Any time you have a committee, it’s going to greatly slow things down,” she said. “In theory it could happen very quickly, but in practice it does not.”
While internet connectivity and wireless technology on which modern schools depend was disabled and are being restored in a gradual process, teachers are still responsible for entering data on grades, attendance, individualized education plans and the dossiers required by the New Mexico Public Education Department for licensure and promotion.
Sheehan said that the district’s request for teachers to maintain paper records and enter them digitally later was in response to an emergency not of the district’s making, it still constituted extra work, requiring teachers to put in extra hours.
She also said teachers were not on a level playing field during the repair process, with some teachers purchasing or upgrading their own devices and supplies while others could not afford to do so.
“That’s really why the local wants to get the district back to the table, so they can talk to them about these things,” Parr-Sánchez said.
The ransomware attack and aftermath has affected personnel across the district, Trujillo said, and not all of them are covered by bargaining agreements with NEA-LC or the union for classified staff, the Classified School Employees Council of Las Cruces.
Meanwhile, both sides told the Sun-News that communication between the union and the district has broken on this issue.
Read the district’s letter to NEA-Las Cruces here:
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