CEA President Speaks Out Against District Use of “Scabs” in Event of Strike
Negotiations are going well on the new contract between Columbus City Schools and the Columbus Education Association (CEA), says CEA president John Coneglio. Still, the Board of Education’s plan to use alternative staffing in the event of a strike has union members concerned.
CEA, the union which represents the more than 4,000 teachers who work for the district, recently voted to approve a 10-day strike vote in case contract talks turn sour. As a contingency plan, the Board has voted to employ Huffmaster, a strike staffing agency based in Michigan, to supply teachers, counselors, and other school personnel should the CEA vote to strike.
CEA members packed the Board’s meeting on Tuesday, June 18 to voice their opposition to the decision. Coneglio says the union is concerned with nonlocal people running Columbus classrooms, who might be unqualified to educate and protect the students properly.
Citing the 2014 strike by the Reynoldsburg Education Association, when Huffmaster’s services were employed to take the place of school staff, Coneglio shares instances of “scabs falling asleep, fights breaking out,” and IEP standards not being met. A “scab” is a common slang term used to describe replacement workers for those on strike, or for people who cross a picket line.
“They’re not qualified, they don’t care about kids, and they’re not there to educate kids, so what’s the point?” says Coneglio. “Why would you even want to keep the schools open?”
Board President Gary Baker was unavailable for an interview, but released a statement regarding the use of Huffmaster’s services should a strike happen.
“Without question, the Board of Education appreciates, respects, and loves our teachers. Our hope is that Huffmaster’s services are not needed, but as Board Members, it is our responsibility to be prepared should a strike happen,” he says. “Our students deserve to have their schools be open and to have a safe environment with access to breakfast and lunch. We will continue to negotiate in good faith, and we expect a positive outcome.”
Despite Baker’s statement, Coneglio says he worries that this decision by the Board means the district won’t continue bargaining in good faith. In the new contract, the CEA is seeking what they call student-centered changes: reduced class sizes and caseloads, dedicated spaces for art, music and P.E., more nurses, counselors and social workers, and alternative programs for discipline to “end the school-to-prison pipeline.”
The CEA is also seeking better compensation for educators and an end to tax abatements for corporations, which Coneglio says unnecessarily shifts the burden of funding schools to taxpayers when the Board wants to pass a levy.
“You have City Council and the Board coming and saying ‘Some of you don’t have to pay: big corporations that don’t need tax abatements. But the rest of you do.’ Then they come back and ask us for more money?” Coneglio says. “The working people of Columbus — how much more are you going to put on them?”
Back in April, Coneglio marched alongside hundreds of teachers in opposition to the tax abatement Council granted to healthcare software company CoverMyMeds for their new Downtown headquarters. The abatement is estimated to cost the schools $55 million in property taxes.
So far, contract negotiations have been productive, says Coneglio, but the authorization of a 10-day strike notice is for the protection of teachers in the case that changes. Should the CEA’s legislative assembly call for a 10-day strike notice, the union would then have to gather its 4,000 members for a vote, meaning it wouldn’t happen overnight.
“We have limited resources. We’re not flush with cash over here at the CEA,” Coneglio says. “So, we have to make sure we have a plan to have the best contract for our students and our members.”