Judge denies Modesto Teachers Association and state union motions

naustin@modbee.comJune 30, 2014 

In twin decisions denying both parties, a judge refused to free the Modesto Teachers Association from the trusteeship of its state affiliate but also blocked efforts to enforce trustee control.

“It’s kind of on hold, but it’s not,” summed up Bill McMurray, one of three trustees appointed by CTA for the Modesto chapter. “At the moment, everything is waiting on the July 10 hearing.”

In rulings issued Monday, Superior Court Judge Timothy Salter denied the Modesto chapter’s motion to invalidate the trusteeship, which was imposed May 5 by the California Teachers Association in advance of an MTA vote to break away from the state union. Salter also denied the California Teachers Association’s motion to override MTA’s local management, saying the trusteeship and the state union’s high bar to disaffiliate would make it impossible for MTA to continue its lawsuit. Both cases will return to court July 29.

“Essentially, with CTA conceding to not try to impose the trusteeship, the judge accepted CTA’s promise not to try to move ahead with the trusteeship instead of having to issue an injunction. The effect for MTA is the same – no trusteeship for the duration of the litigation,” said MTA attorney Rafael Ruano by email after the ruling.

In court, CTA attorney Glenn Rothner asked the judge to allow the organization’s internal appeals process to move forward, starting with what’s being called an appeal hearing July 10 with Modesto members. State union rules require the meeting to allow members to challenge the trusteeship, McMurray said.

“What the court said (in denying both motions) is let’s go back to our respective corners and see what the internal appeals process can do,” McMurray said.

But Ruano said he now sees the meeting as moot. “As to CTA’s planned July 10 ‘appeal hearing,’ that would clearly fall under the promise not to try to enforce the trusteeship and is presumably canceled,” he wrote, adding that he would head back to court if that was not the case.

Ruano said the chapter’s lawsuit against the state union will go forward, regardless. “MTA wants the court to determine what the terms of the legal relationship between CTA and MTA actually are,” he wrote. “Specifically, can CTA impose a trusteeship, but also whether MTA is bound by none, some or all of CTA’s adopted rules.”

Among those rules are ones regarding disaffiliation. The MTA leadership proposed the split as a bylaws revision, which did not require the two-thirds approval of members or many procedural steps of a vote to disaffiliate, both sides said in court arguments.

The proposal failed by either standard, with 58 percent of teachers voting May 6 against leaving the state union and 40 percent voting in favor of the break.

The Modesto chapter framed the election and the legal fight as a battle for local control. The state union calls its intervention necessary to preserve the democratic process.

The dust-up between unions started, however, with a very nuts-and-bolts dispute over the Modesto chapter’s long-standing practice of paying its top staffer an MTA salary via Modesto City Schools paychecks.

MTA paid the school district enough for salary and benefits to keep the individual on the district payroll, with ongoing employment guarantees and seniority. Executive Director Megan Gowans has resigned, effective Tuesday, and will exercise those rights to return to a high school classroom next year after a 10-year absence, the district said.

The executive directors also continued to accrue years of retirement credit with the California State Teachers Retirement System as if still teaching. CalSTRS opened an investigation of the practice, which appears to violate laws restricting retirement credit to jobs closely tied to student instruction. The law allows an exception for elected union officers but does not exempt appointed staff members.

The appointed director was one of three staff positions covered by a $280,000 staffing grant the California Teachers Association gave the MTA. But the grant was to pay for MTA employees and the director, on paper, worked for Modesto City Schools. When the discrepancy came to light, the MTA leadership council voted to lose the grant rather than change how it paid its executive director.

Leaving the state union was necessary, MTA election fliers said, to save the $1.2 million in dues it sends forward to the state union and be able to continue to afford local staff and stipends. The MTA pays a three-member office staff, full-time president, and more than a dozen part-time officers and directors.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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