ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — While negotiations have stalled between Rio Rancho Public Schools and the Rio Rancho School Employees’ union, the two sides continue to trade public jabs.
The district sent out a letter Friday criticizing the union’s negotiating tactics, and the union responded.
Meanwhile, the stalled negotiations have prevented union members from receiving the 3 percent raises approved by the RRPS board this summer. RRPS spokesman Kim Vesely said whether union members are eligible for back pay will depend on negotiations.
The two parties went back into negotiations Aug. 7 but were unable to come to an agreement. Union president Steve Eisenberg said last week that they had reached an impasse, meaning a third party would need to come in and help reach agreement.
The district said in its letter that it is disappointed by the lack of progress and that it had not declared an impasse. The district believes “progress can still be made through the negotiating process, and encourages the union to return to the bargaining table.”
Eisenberg said Friday the union considers negotiations at an impasse and that it was the district that left the negotiating table last week, not the union.
Eisenberg accused district officials of wanting to deny employees their raises, instead giving “merit pay” to a select few district employees.
Recently, the district said it would give four of its directors an additional raise above the approved 3 percent because their duties and hours had increased.
The school district letter goes on to say the union’s agenda is not aligned with the agenda of district employees, noting union membership is “only about 21 percent.”
“Only two members of the union’s bargaining team are employees of the school district (both from the same school) with the remaining four members being paid union operatives,” the district letter read. “…We hope that the union does not believe that the only way to recruit membership is to provoke confrontations with the district and demonize district leadership.”
Eisenberg said the union is fighting for a fair contract that compensates employees and provides good working conditions. He said four of six negotiating members have children who attend a Rio Rancho school and none of the negotiating team is paid.
“We are invested in the community, whereas the school district’s head negotiator, who is being paid, lives in Phoenix and he flies in for these meetings,” he said.
Vesely said he is not necessarily the head negotiator and only recently moved to Phoenix after 20 years. She said the district kept him on to maintain continuity in negotiations.