President's Corner                                           Page 42


Trust and Teamwork:

Keys to Labor Harmony


 Amy Sichel

Trust and teamwork are key factors in successful labor relations and negotiations, along with a crucial understanding about the importance of working together in the interests of all stakeholders in the district and community.

Author William Streshly, in Preventing and Managing Teacher Strikes, writes: “The old collective bargaining model persists in school districts, not because the players are unaware, but because they think they are successful playing the confrontational game. They lack appreciation of the dynamics of a cooperative approach to bargaining. Some of the dynamics are grounded in common sense and experience. ... In practice, however, the approach a school district takes begins with two key players, the local union president and the district superintendent.”

I am fortunate to have the full support of my school board, the result of many years of working together to benefit our community. I also have a positive relationship with the education associations, particularly the teachers’ association.

Debra Lee, president of the Abington Education Association in Abington, Pa., for the past five years, has the strong support of her executive board and membership. She and I have mutual respect for one another and recognize the positive influence and authority the other possesses.

These relationships and supports are important going into negotiations. All the players know I have the support of the board and Lee has the support of her association. But it goes beyond support. She and I truly appreciate the dynamics of a cooperative approach to negotiations and bargaining.

“We are committed to educating the whole child. We don’t just come to Abington School District to work, we are part of the Abington community,” Lee explains. “Our relationship is built on mutual respect, and our No. 1 goal is always to do what is best for the children.”

We make it a point to be available to each other. Lee says: “Dr. Sichel has always had an open door to our association. There is nothing that I cannot bring to her. She is always willing to hear our concerns. She solicits our input and listens to our viewpoints.”

We’ve developed our collaborative approach over many years. Key components and steps along the way have included:

  • Active participation of teacher association members on district committees, such as curriculum, facilities and technology — all areas that have financial implications;
  • Mutual understanding and appreciation of the financial picture and challenges;
  • Attendance by association members at important school board, parent and community meetings/events; and
  • Communication with each other to seek input on various issues.

An inclusive, collegial relationship that avoids adversarial and confrontational positions has been a keystone of our success. Our strategy is to work out issues together in a way that meets the mission of our school district.

As Lee says, “Although we don’t always agree on everything, we always end our meetings in a friendly, helpful and cooperative manner. When you put the students and school district first, as we do, you are always able to arrive at solutions. Often, one or both of us will have to compromise, but students come first. Excellence is our standard in Abington, and we feel excellence starts with us.”

When I asked our school board president, Raymond McGarry, to comment on our labor/management relationship, he replied: “The relationships of our board, superintendent and associations are superb. Dr. Sichel and Ms. Lee have worked together diligently to benefit our students, families and community. We have enjoyed labor harmony for over 20 years.”

Amy Sichel is AASA president in 2013-14. E-mail: AmySichel@abington.k12.pa.us


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