Fiscal Report
Public Education's Point of Reference for Making Educated Decisions

Collective Bargaining During a Crisis

Collective bargaining and local agreements between labor and management shape and define a local educational agency at least as much as board and district goals. Collective bargaining agreements prescribe rules relating to compensation and working conditions, which provide a roadmap for employers in employee management. Collective bargaining agreements are living documents—changing and developing over time as the parties react to an ever-changing reality. 

Collective bargaining contract management is an ongoing function in local educational agencies (LEAs). On a daily basis there are situations that arise where employees are affected and local board policies, state and federal laws, and local collective bargaining agreements serve as resources for handling each situation as it arises.

Our current reality is one that we could not have predicted and brings uncertainty to our schools/colleges, our employees, and our communities. During this unprecedented time, we must work with our labor partners to consider how to best serve our students and our communities and tend to the needs of our employees. This will inevitably trigger the employer’s obligation to negotiate working condition impacts. A careful review of your current collective bargaining agreement is necessary to ensure legal compliance with new laws and legislation enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the temporary nature of some of these laws, it is important to exercise caution when bargaining the impacts of school/college closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is our recommendation that LEAs do not make permanent changes to the collective bargaining agreement, but rather codify agreements in a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that clearly articulates the effective and sunsetting dates of the agreement.

As you negotiate working condition impacts during the COVID-19 crisis, and in light of the considerations above, we recommend that bargaining and the development of MOUs be grounded in the following guiding principles:

  • As in all of the LEA’s concerns, students must come first
  • Negotiate an MOU, to the extent practical, that preserves services to the community’s children and college students during the COVID-19 crisis
  • Be good stewards of the public’s resources by adhering to sound fiscal practices and negotiating an MOU that balances the interests of employees with the needs of the LEA and the students it serves
  • Bargain in good faith based upon working condition needs and engage in principled decision-making based on objective data and criteria

If, at this time, your LEA is engaged in successor agreement negotiations at the table, it may make sense for both parties to pause the process so that everyone can give full attention to the most urgent tasks at hand of continuing instruction and services for the children and college students in your community. In addition, our economic environment is changing significantly and that means that we have entered more uncertain financial times. These are all reasons to defer significant decisions on successor agreements until the field around us stabilizes.