December 10, 2020

By Veronica Steiner, Features Editor

In response to an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge filed by the Peralta Federation of Teachers (PFT) alleging that the Peralta Community College District did not negotiate important items including rescheduling classes, restricted access to the Faculty, Administration and Staff (FAS) listserv and denied union representation to faculty, the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) issued a complaint which will be heard in an informal settlement conference in the coming weeks.

The charge, first filed in March and amended in April, names former Peralta Chancellor Regina Stanback Stroud, Interim Vice Chancellor of Human Resources Chanelle Whittaker, and Vice-Chancellor of Academic Affairs Siri Brown in the complaint as the officials representing the district and how their specific actions have violated Government Code Sections 3543.5 (a), (b), and (c). 

The code includes, among other things, refusing or failing to “meet and negotiate in good faith.”

According to PFT President Jennifer Shanoski, this is the first time the union has filed a ULP and “gone this far with it.” The process gives both parties a chance to state their positions before PERB makes a decision about whether or not they will file an official complaint for the Charging Party (PFT) against the Respondent (the district). After the PFT charged the district with the ULP, the district submitted their formal response. 

Whittaker submitted the Peralta District’s position to PERB in response to the ULP charges in a formal letter this past May, with 135 pages of exhibits. Whittaker denied all of the charges the PFT put forward and requested dismissal because “the ‘facts’ as alleged in its charge are nothing more than gross mischaracterizations of the truth, and outright falsehoods, intended to deceive the Public Employment Relations Board.”

PERB upheld PFT’s Unfair Labor Practice charges in an official complaint issued November 4, 2020. The five-page complaint cited all charges and the reasons provided to uphold the charge.  

The PFT charge, the district’s position and the PERB complaint all touch on the various points outlined in the ULP and take their positions on the matters.

Rescheduling Classes/Spring Break: 

Effective in March, the district canceled all faculty evaluations for the Spring 2020 semester, a process which according to Shanoski is essential for part-time workers, since it enables them to enter the Preferential Hiring Pool.

“Last spring, the colleges were shut down for two weeks and that was done without any negotiations or any real consultation with the PFT and that has had huge ripple effects on our faculty and our students because those hours and curriculum had to be made up,” Shanoski said. 

“Part-time faculty who weren’t in the preferred hiring pool, because they hadn’t been evaluated, but had been here for many years, we wanted them to get some job security, just until the fall and we were told ‘no.’ So there was no negotiating about that,” she explained.

The district’s response painted a different picture. Whittaker stated that California’s declaration of an emergency with accompanying shelter-in-place orders; the district was entitled “to a valid claim of business necessity,” which Whittaker said excused it from negotiations. 

In addition to the evaluation cancelations, the PERB complaint cited the district changed policy and decided to cancel classes that had been previously scheduled for March 17 through April 7, 2020. 

The PERB complaint stated that “without prior notice to Charging Party and without having afforded Charging Party an opportunity to negotiate the decision to implement the change in policy and/or the effects of the change policy.”

Again PERB outlined these charges to be a violation of Government codes, 3543.5 (a), (b), (c).

FAS listserv:

According to the PERB complaint, the district had a policy to allow PFT members, faculty, staff and administrators to use FAS listservs at the colleges and district-wide to freely communicate with one another regarding various topics, including gripes they may have about employee personnel matters. 

Pictured here are graphics recreating the text exchanges between Siri Brown and Jennifer Shanoski, provided to The Citizen via an informal records request, regarding the cancellation of classes and both sides’ stance on bargaining around this issue. (Exchange recreated by The Citizen)

According to the complaint, “in or around April 2020, Respondent changed this policy by no longer permitting Charging Party and unit members to post about these topics.”

Pictured here are graphics recreating the text exchanges between Siri Brown and Jennifer Shanoski, provided to The Citizen via an informal records request, regarding the cancellation of classes and both sides’ stance on bargaining around this issue. (Exchange recreated by The Citizen)

When the district restricted FAS use of the listserv, PERB found, “the Respondent interfered with employee rights guaranteed by the Educational Employment Relations Act and discriminated against Charging Party in violation of Government Code section 3543.5 (a) and also denied Charging Party its right to represent employees in violation of Government Code 3453.5 (b).” 

According to Shanoski, the district’s restriction of the FAS Listserv and refusal to bargain about changes to this “policy” was the initial reason for the ULP Charge filing with PERB. 

“We initially filed an Unfair Labor Practice charge because our faculty, staff and administration listserv, known as FAS, was unilaterally just cut off and we, the PFT, believed that that was a subject of bargaining. And so we filed the [ULP], we then amended that charge to include a variety of other things,” Shanoski said. 

The district’s response to the FAS Listserv charge by Whittaker denied all points brought up in the charge, focusing on the fact that it wasn’t being used for the intended purpose laid out when it started 15 years prior. 

“Over the years, the FAS has increasingly been used not as a tool to collegially engage and communicate with individuals within the geographic location, but instead as a tool to discuss personal, non-district business, to incite hate speech, and spew vitriol throughout the Peralta community. All of which are a violation of the policies and procedures established by the district,” Whittaker wrote.

The PFT hopes to have their communication system back in place and that the district will be open to negotiating the next steps moving forward for a system that both sides feel suits their needs.

“We asked for it [FAS Listserv] to be reinstated until we can negotiate a change. We are asking for it to be put back in place and that we then negotiate any changes to our email policy,” Shanoski said. 

When The Citizen asked the district if it will reinstate the FAS Listserv after receiving the complaint from PERB, Interim Chancellor Carla Walter commented, “not at this time.”

Investigations without Representation:

In March 2020, College of Alameda Automotive Technology faculty member Richard Greenspan was required to meet with the district regarding disciplinary allegations against another employee. According to the PERB Complaint, “Greenspan had a reasonable belief that the interview would result in disciplinary action against him or, in the alternative, the interview posed highly unusual circumstances.” 

According to the complaint, Greenspan requested a PFT representative accompany him to the meeting, but never heard a response from the district, which by default refused the representatives’ attendance. 

Shanoski explained that this was another amendment to the original PFT charge, adding that although it is completely normal for chief negotiator Richard Greenspan to be called in as a witness, the lack of a reason was unusual.

“We weren’t given any information about why and we were told that he couldn’t bring a union representative and that’s just an outright violation of labor law,” Shanoski said. 

The response stated that Greenspan’s appearance in another employee’s investigation did not require a notification that he could bring representation or background information about the interview and situation.

“The district did not violate sections 3543.5(a), (b) and (c) of the EERA (Educational Employment Relations Act), and deny Richard Greenspan representation in the investigative meeting,” Whittaker wrote. 

“As the charge acknowledges, Greenspan was not a subject to the investigation, therefore not requiring the district to notify him that he was allowed representation. Additionally, it has long been the district’s past practice that the interviewees that are not the subject matter of an investigation, are not provided information prior to the meeting, as to protect the integrity of the investigative process.”

After seeing both sides of the argument, PERB found that the district “denied the employee’s right to be represented by his employee organization in violation of Government Code Section 3543.5(a). This conduct also denied Charging Party [PFT] its right to represent employees in violation of Government Code section 3543.5(b).”

Now What?

Since the filing of the ULP by the PFT, Stanback Stroud resigned and Walter took her place. Walter said she is making sure she understands the charges put forward by the PFT in order to harbor better relations with faculty and staff.

“I am reviewing the complaint issued by the Public Relations Employment Board (PERB). I want to understand the issues that cause PFT to file the Unfair Labor Practice Charge before I became the Chancellor. It is my preference to work through challenges with our labor unions and hopefully avoid conflicts and unfair labor charges when we can,” Walter said in an email to The Citizen

Shanoski said that Walter has done a better job collaborating with the PFT and resolving issues before they get out of hand. 

“I think she cares about faculty concerns, she understands faculty concerns and she is treating us fairly and respectfully. That’s all we really asked for,” Shanoski said. 

She explained that when lawyers or legal personnel are required to handle disputes or, in this instance, the ULP filed by the PFT, local taxpayers are the ones that cover the cost. Whereas the PFT legal fees are covered by their membership dues.

“That’s a big issue, the district’s money goes into all of these legal challenges. For us, it’s member money. Everybody contributes a small amount of their paycheck every month,” Shanoski said. 

“It’s like when you go up against a big corporation, right? The district has huge pockets, they have millions of dollars and they spend millions of dollars on legal costs every year.”

Shanoski didn’t disclose what the PFT is asking the district for in a settlement conference but assured The Citizen it isn’t money. However, according to the ULP, legal fees could be reimbursed. 

“I can say that we rarely go after financial settlements because that is taxpayer money and we’re not interested in taking money away from students and our community,” Shanoski said.

The PFT is most interested in fairness and ensuring that the law in their contract is followed. With new faces in the administration, the PFT hopes their voices will carry more weight.

“I don’t think it’s overstating the case to say that faculty are the best experts of what happens in the district, what has happened in the district and probably what will happen in the district. We are the most continuous workforce,” Shanoski said.

Walter said she is striving to build a better working relationship and that the work has already begun. 

“I plan to work with all of our labor groups as partners in serving our students and fulfilling the mission of the district. I like to address issues and work on challenges quickly through respectful dialogue. We have already had an opportunity to work on problem-solving together on some issues and I am sure we will continue to face other challenges together,” Walter said.

The complaint letter dated Nov. 10 from PERB requires the Peralta Community College District to file an answer by Monday, Nov. 30. The Citizen reached out for comment to Mark Johnson, Peralta’s Executive Director for Marketing, Communication & Public Relations, for the district’s answer. He stated that an extension had been filed and Shanoski confirmed Johnson’s comment. PERB also confirmed the extension, stating their response will now be due on Dec. 14.

Once the answer is submitted and received by PERB, an informal settlement conference will be scheduled to execute a settlement agreement.