legal_mailbag_transparentOriginally appeared in the CAS Weekly NewsBlast. Written by Attorney Thomas B. Mooney.

Dear Legal Mailbag:

I understand that success as a principal depends on support from the parent community. Unfortunately, I have never been accused of being charming. I know my stuff, but I can be socially awkward, and sometimes I am overbearing to compensate. Given my acknowledged limitations, I figure that it may be better to communicate with the parents at my school in writing. Sadly, that is not my strong suit either.

Last month, I was talking about my problem with one of my friends, an English teacher in my school. Not surprisingly, she is a good writer, and, as we talked about my problems, she offered to help me write a weekly parent newsletter. I was delighted with her idea, but I told her that I didn’t want to impose on her. But the idea was too good to abandon, so we decided that she would write the newsletter and I would pay her a modest stipend for each column out of the school’s “miscellaneous” fund. However, I forgot to swear her to secrecy, and members of the Association got wind of our arrangement. Now they are threatening an unfair labor practice charge and a grievance! Can I tell these busybodies to go fly a kite?

Communicationally Challenged

Dear Challenged:

I sympathize with your frustration, but you stepped into a labor relations mud puddle (to be polite), and you will have to get out of it gracefully. The problem here is that the Association is the exclusive bargaining representative for the teachers at your school (and throughout the district). As such, the Association represents teachers with respect to their wages, hours and conditions of employment, and the employer (including you) must work through the union whenever you want to change existing conditions of employment.

Here, you have changed working conditions for that English teacher by offering her a stipend position without negotiating that stipend with the union. It may be that she is the best or perhaps only person for the job. But you cannot make individual arrangements with teachers or other unionized employees. Rather, if you want to as her to do extra work for extra pay, you have to start by talking to the Association.

Finally, I anticipate your question. But she volunteered, you respond. Sorry. The law does not recognize the concept of “volunteering” in an employment relationship. It is inherently coercive when one’s boss asks a subordinate to “volunteer,” whether it is to stay late or to do extra work. Accordingly, from a legal perspective, you directed her to write the newsletter, a new duty that should have been negotiated with the union.

Please submit your questions to: