Know Your Weingarten rights!

It is important to know and utilize your rights as a union member.  Did you know that you have the right to Union representation during an investigatory interview?  If you think that you are going to be interviewed by your supervisors, and that it could result in some kind of discipline, you have the right to union representation during that interview.  But these “Weingarten rights” must be claimed by you, as your supervisor has no obligation to inform you of your right to Union representation.

What is an Investigatory Interview?

An investigatory interview is one in which a Supervisor questions an employee to obtain information which could be used as a basis for discipline or asks an employee to defend his/her conduct. If an employee has a reasonable belief that discipline or discharge may result from what s/he says, the employee has the right to request Union representation.

An employee must state to the employer that he/she wants a Union representative present; the employer has no obligation to ask: the employee if she/he wants a representative.

Weingarten Rules

When an investigatory interview occurs, the following rules apply:

Rule 1 – You must make a clear request for Union representation before or during the interview. You can’t be punished for making this request.

Rule 2 – After you make the request, your supervisor has 3 options. S/he must either:

  1. Grant the request and delay the interview until the Union representative arrives and has a chance to consult privately with the employee: or
  2. Deny the request and end the interview immediately; or
  3. Give the employee a Choice of: 1)having the interview without representation or 2) ending the interview

Rule 3 – If the supervisor denies your request and continues to ask questions, this is an unfair labor practice and you have the right to refuse to answer. You cannot be disciplined for such refusal but are required to sit there until the supervisor terminates the interview. Leaving before this happens may constitute punishable insubordination.
While this is an important right to have, it is not always applicable.
An employee has NO right to the presence of a Union representative where:

  1. The meeting is merely for the purpose of conveying work instructions, training, or communicating needed corrections in the employee’s work techniques.
  2. The employee is assured by the employer prior to the interview that no discipline or employment consequences can result from the interview.
  3. The employer has reached a final decision to impose certain discipline on the employee prior to the interview, and the purpose of the interview is to inform the employee of the discipline or to impose it.
  4. Any conversation or discussion about the previously determined discipline which is initiated by the employee and without employer encouragement or instigation after the employee is informed of the action.

Even in the above circumstances, you can still ask for representation. Most employers will permit a representative to attend even when not required to.

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The Program Review (PRI) Committee Release Interim Study on Para Staffing Levels

CSEA Paraeducators Testify

CSEA paraeducators testified at a public hearing on an interim study of paraeducator staffing levels in late September.  The program review (PRI) committee approved the study of school paraeducator staffing in May of 2014 following intensive lobbying efforts by CSEA and other unions representing paras to form a task force on these same issues.  Our union and others have raised the issue that districts are assigning school paraeducators in ways that render paras unable to effectively perform their core duties, including those that are required by special education students’ individualized education plans.

Cille Grabert, para educator in the New FairfieldSchool District testified.  “When I was assigned to three students in a first grade class, my job was to keep them on task, have them complete an assignment, and monitor their behavior. The teacher told me that all of the students had to produce something to complete their assignments. It was very challenging because each had different learning issues and learning styles.  One student would break every pencil that I gave him and act out, another student was extremely shy and had difficulties with reading, and the last student had problems with writing and spelling. Many elementary paraeducators experience similar situations everyday assisting in the classroom, and without the necessary training to address the needs of our students we can’t serve them nearly as well as we could.  We need the proper tools to do the job; we need access to professional development.”

The report’s findings so far:

There is no one definition of school paraprofessional, or para. Various definitions and titles exist, depending on federal and state law and regulation, and local district policies, job descriptions, and contracts.

Connecticut State Department of Education collects data on the numbers of FTE non-certified instructional staff (NCIS) in all districts. The categories of NCIS include those assigned to: special education; Pre-K and kindergarten; library/media; ESL/Bilingual; and regular education.

The data indicate that there are a total of 14,450 NCIS working in the districts in 2013, an increase of about 13 percent from 2003, but a decrease of 2 percent from the 14,741 employed in 2010.

Most of the increase in NCIS has been in special education, where the number of FTEs has risen about 30 percent, from 7,319 in 2003 to 9,562 in 2013. At the same, the number of paras assigned to other areas and regular education has decreased by about 20 percent.

Since 2004, there has also been an increase in the number of special education teachers (5 percent), while the numbers of special education students has declined by about 3,350 (5 percent). Thus, the ratio of special education students to both special education teachers and special education paraprofessionals has decreased over a similar period – in the case of teachers from 8:1 in 2004 to 6:1 in 2013, in the case of paras, from 5:1 to 4:1.

Results from a recent survey of paras conducted by UConn’s UniversityCenter for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities indicate that 54percent of paras responding had been working for 10+ years; 41 percent had a BA or higher, while 16 percent had only a high school or equivalency diploma.

In the vast majority of school districts, paras are unionized, with various unions representing paras.

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Connecticut teaching assistants (including paras) are paid an annual average salary of $29,230, about $5,000 more than the national average. The average para salary is about 42 percent of the $68,580 salary of an elementary general education teacher and 41 percent of the $71,810 paid to a special education teacher.

The study will now conduct a survey of school districts’ human resources and special education  departments will seek data about: actual numbers of full- and part-time NCIS, their job titles, the students and/or classrooms they support; and numbers and types of grievances raised, injuries reported, and workers’ compensation cases filed. Further data analysis will focus on contract provisions, job descriptions, and school and district staffing patterns. The final report is expected to be released after the legislature returns in January, at which time we can expect there to be additional public hearings.  CSEA members will be ready testify at  public hearings following the release of the final report.  Stay tuned…

Paid for by CSEA SEIU Local 2001.  This message was made independent of any candidate or political party.  More information about CSEA SEIU Local 2001 may be found on the state elections commission internet website.

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Governor Issues Proclamation on Paraprofessional Appreciation Day

April 3rd is Paraprofessional Appreciation Day, and this year we received an official proclamation from Governor Malloy thanking us for our hard work.  The first Wednesday of each April has been set aside to show appreciation for paraprofessionals providing service in multiple educational settings to assist our students so they can be successful.  CSEA wishes to join in thanking our Paraprofessionals:   Your contributions are so important that one day of appreciation a year is certainly not enough.

Para Day Gov Proclomation

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Paraprofessional Update

One of CSEA’s tops priorities is instituting a series of legislative reforms to improve the careers of paraprofessionals.  Among the reform ideas that have been discussed are developing a career ladder and mentoring program for paras, and conducting a comparable pay pilot study to look at pay rates for paras in Connecticut and nearby states.  At the start of this session of the General Assembly, Tim Riddle, our Para Council president, and Danny Medress, CSEA’s political director, met with the co-chairs of the Education Committee.  Any piece of legislation having to do with education must pass through this committee, so, we wanted to make sure the co-chairs understood and supported our issues.  During the meeting, the co-chairs – Senator Andrea Stillman and Representative Andrew Fleischmann – expressed deep support for paras and agreed to work with us to put together and pass a package of legislation to reform and improve the careers of paras.  The current session of the General Assembly is focused on passing Connecticut’s budget – a process that tends to suck up all the oxygen – so we will be working with other para unions and legislators to put together a reform package that can run during next year’s General Assembly session.

Which is not to say that we are sitting on the sidelines waiting for next year.  In the current session of the General Assembly, there is a bill that would improve the composition of the School Paraprofessional Advisory Council.  Currently, the Advisory Council is not composed of a majority of paraprofessionals – CSEA’s own, Bill Walkauskas, is now a member of the Advisory Council.  House Bill 6502 fixes that problem by providing a majority of seats to paras.  This piece of legislation passed unanimously out of the Education Committee last week.

FMLA For Para’s Update
After fighting for years to win Family and Medical Leave Act rights for paraprofessionals, it is frustrating that it has taken so long to finalize the needed regulations.  However, Connecticut has a thorough regulatory review process, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  The Connecticut Department of Labor (DOL) completed the regulations and, pursuant to Connecticut’s regulatory approval process, sent them to the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) for review.  OPM reviewed the regulations and made a series of changes and suggestions.  DOL is currently integrating those changes into the regulations and will soon be sending the updated regulations to the Governor’s office for sign off.  After the Governor’s office signs off on the regulations, they will be sent back to the DOL to be published in the Connecticut Law Journal.  Once published in the Connecticut Law Journal, the public will have 30 days to comment on the regulations.  After the public comment period has closed and DOL has responded to each and every comment, DOL will send them to the Attorney General’s office.  After the Attorney General’s office signs off on the regulations, they will be sent to the General Assembly’s Regulations Review Committee.  The Regulations Review Committee must approve or reject the regulations within 60 days.  With this timeline in mind, it looks like the FMLA for paraprofessionals regulations will be in place by July.

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