Opinion: Who wins in contract dispute?

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Just when people thought it was over, the 2012-13 contract dispute between the Carmel Clay Education Association and the school district has found new legs.

The contract negotiations began in August 2012, but the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement. The talks entered state-mandated mediation before the teachers’ association filed a lawsuit in November 2012 alleging unfair labor practices.

That lawsuit and its appeals process were resolved, and a decision on a 2012-13 contract was sent to a fact-finder after Carmel teachers overwhelmingly voted to reject the administration’s “last best offer” contract.

The fact-finder had determined that a contract the Carmel schools administration proposed should apply retroactively for the 2012-13 school year. The Indiana Education Employment Relations Board upheld the fact-finder’s ruling in November 2013 and Carmel schools have since applied the contract.

Now the teachers’ association is appealing the decision in Marion County Superior Court.

The entire process is blazing new legal ground.

The school district’s attorney, Hud Pfeiffer of Indianapolis law firm Faegre Baker Daniels, estimates the new appeal could take 12 to 18 months to resolve.

One of the main issues at stake is significant – the inclusion of a salary schedule that is mandated by state law yet allowed to be absent in this particular contract based on the definition of the word “schedule” found in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition from 2005.

But the real winner might be the lawyers involved in this dispute and the subsequent contract dispute for 2013-14.

Carmel schools said it already has paid out $248,079 to Pfeiffer’s firm at a rate of $460 per hour for his firm’s work on the two cases. Carmel schools receives a 20 percent discount off the firm’s standard rate.

Craig Blume, director of legal services and field staff for the Indiana State Teachers’ Association, estimates his association has spent a large amount as well; although he didn’t have specific numbers he estimated if was likely half of what the district has spent because they used fewer lawyers.

And the Carmel teachers’ association has racked up significant legal costs, although with the state association’s support.

Blume said that Carmel was never intended to be a battleground, but that the dispute has yielded new case law and new legal interpretations that affect all teachers. And now that another case, known commonly as Nettle Creek, has yielded a positive result, he hopes the long process state law requires will turn in the favor of the teachers’ associations.

Blume said, “I am optimistic for all teachers that the trial courts will provide some relief.”


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