November 26, 2012
By Diane Cohen, LaborPress Washington DC Bureau
The Jefferson Federation of Teachers is celebrating three recent victories in Jefferson Parish, La. Most recently, on Nov. 15, a three-judge panel of the Fifth Circuit (Louisiana) Court of Appeal unanimously ruled that the Jefferson Parish Public School System acted illegally when it furloughed teachers in 2011, as it lowered their annual salaries when it reduced the work year by one day.
A few months earlier, a different panel of judges in the same court prohibited the school board from imposing a similar unpaid furlough on school support employees.
In a separate matter, an arbitrator ruled that the school board violated the collective bargaining agreement when it laid off 54 teachers in 2011 under what the school board claimed to be a “reduction in force” or RIF. This RIF took place over a two-month period during which more than 100 employees resigned or retired—“more than enough employees to avoid the need to lay off anyone,” says union attorney Larry Samuel. In addition, the board hired more than 200 new employees after it had laid off the 54, then laid off an additional 24, although not under the RIF.
The union, which had filed the grievance that led to arbitration, simultaneously sued, arguing that the board’s action also violated state laws governing tenure, evaluation and reduction in force. The judge found the school board in violation of the law, and ordered reinstatement and back pay. Most of the RIFed employees who wanted to return have been reinstated. The school board has began the process of distributing back pay plus interest, contributions to retirement and retroactive health insurance.
"This is a victory for our teachers who work extremely hard for our students every day," said JFT president Meladie Munch after the most recent decision. "Teachers are the cornerstone of public education in Jefferson Parish. The court's decision treats them with the dignity and respect they so deserve."