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Lee Libby wins recall fight

Lee LibbyDuring these difficult times it is nice to share some good news about a good person. Lee Libby, a veteran K-6 music coordinator in Poland and former member of MEA’s Board of Directors, was laid off due to budget problems at the end of the 2009-10 school year.

However, when the music program was reorganized under the newly formed Regional School Union (RSU) 16 that combined Poland, Minot, and Mechanic Falls, the Board of Directors did not honor Libby’s recall rights to the new "three-town" Music Coordinator position. Instead, they hired an outside applicant at the BA base pay.

A grievance ensued and proceeded to arbitration where Arbitrator Larry Katz upheld Libby’s right to recall and the position. He concluded RSU 16 assumed the recall provisions of the three contracts and was obligated to honor her contractual recall right.

"The Board, by treating the laid off teachers as if they were still employees of the prior ‘one-town’ districts, improperly seeks to limit their recall rights to openings in their specialty area that are in the single town and would be covered by the prior one-town agreement," Katz wrote.

"However, in doing so, the Board ignores the fact that the one-town districts no longer exist. Thus, limiting the recall rights of grievant Libby and other laid off RSU 16 teachers … improperly ignores the fact they are now RSU teachers."

Katz ordered Libby reinstated with seniority, back pay and benefits.

Bruce Smith, the attorney representing RSU 16, argued that Libby did not have recall rights because the new RSU 16 position is not governed by the Poland contract and the new Music Coordinator is a district-wide position in contradistinction to Libby’s single elementary school contract.

On behalf of Libby and the RSU 16 Education Association, MEA General Counsel Shawn Keenan submitted that, irrespective of the district-wide, multi-school, multi-town nature of the new position, the grievant had a right to be recalled since it was substantially the same as her pre-existing position and it was part of the RSU bargaining unit, just as any other teaching position.

Keenan argued for symmetry between outgoing transactions (layoffs) and incoming transactions (recalls), as an asymmetrical method effectively defeats teacher recall rights by making open positions inaccessible. He said Lee’s rights were anchored in the Poland contract, enforceable for any job which touched down even part-time in Poland.

Ultimately, Arbitrator Katz agreed with Keenan’s analysis, citing the enabling legislation regarding the formation of Regional School Unions that requires a newly-formed RSU, as the single employer, to assume the pre-existing contracts of the town-wide districts that are dissolved as the RSU is formed.

He concludes that, "These contracts will govern the terms and conditions of employment within the new ‘single unit of teacher’ that is formed within the RSU." Thus, "there is no possible basis for suggesting that the position is outside the RSU bargaining unit."

"The actions which the Board has taken herein – declining to recall qualified teachers on the recall list, and making an outside hire—are prohibited under all three of the collective bargaining contracts which now govern the RSU."

"The importance of this arbitration decision," concludes Keenan, "is that it confirms the employer’s obligation to honor recall rights and it underscores the legal requirement for RSUs to observe the terms and conditions of the local contracts they are assuming."

Over the last year, while the grievance was being processed, Libby worked as a field representative of AFSCME, the state and municipal employee union. She enjoys her work so much that she negotiated a monetary settlement with RSU 16 and relinquished her recall rights.


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