Members' Rights and Representation
Meeting with Administration- When to Ask for a Rep
Q: When should I ask for a union rep?
A: When you reasonably believe you could be disciplined or have changed working conditions. Seek a union rep immediately if you are:
- Informed of a meeting with your administrator and urged to bring a union rep.
- Notified that you need to attend a Labor Relations Due Process conference.
- Asked questions by your administrator that seem disciplinary – stop the meeting immediately and ask for a rep!
- Asked for a written statement – Inform your administrator that you will respond shortly and contact your Union Rep or MFT Business Agent ASAP to have it reviewed.
- Placed on administrative leave (A letter will be given to you or will follow in the mail – go home if directed and do not contact colleagues or students after that).
Q: What are my rights to representation when meeting with an administrator?
A: You need to speak up to get a steward! If you believe discipline might reasonably result from the meeting or the administrator confirms that it is possible if you ask. If the administrator states that it is not disciplinary, then you need to remain vigilant and ask for a steward if it begins to feel disciplinary. Administrators will usually advise you to bring a union rep to the meeting, but it is not their job to act as your advocate - so remain vigilant about your rights.
Q: Can I delay a meeting to get a rep?
A: You cannot unreasonably delay a meeting. You can request to reschedule. The steward can take notes at your meeting. Once you have the steward present, you and the steward are allowed a brief time to talk before the meeting continues. If there is serious conduct or possibly criminal conduct involved, then you may be best advised not to answer any questions without consulting with MFT ASAP.
Q: Does the administrator need to tell me I can have a union rep?
A: Best practice is that an administrator will suggest you bring a rep. Bottom line, you need to stop responding and request a union rep before continuing the meeting if you believe that discipline may occur. You may ask if there “could” be discipline. The administrator should be candid if there is a possibility even if it depends upon the outcome. If you are concerned, we urge you to speak up. You don’t have a right to a rep if you are directly told that the meeting is not a topic that could lead to discipline.
Q: When should I immediately contact MFT for advice?
A: Contact MFT immediately whenever you have been notified of a Due Process conference, placed on administrative leave, or are aware of allegations of serious conduct. Serious conduct can include allegations of physical force, maltreatment (emotional, physical, or sexual abuse), extreme conduct (vulgar language especially combined with anger), intoxication, job abandonment, etc. If you are asked to give an oral or written statement to an administrator, police officer, representative from MDE. Anytime you receive correspondence related to your employment, don't hesitate to contact us.
Q: What is a "Due Process" conference?
A: A due process meeting is a conference called by the Employee Relations to ask you questions. You will receive a notice in writing from Employee Relations with the date/time and attendees. It will help if you communicate to your business agent some idea of what could arise at the conference. The advice from MFT will be more effective. If you are asked to provide an oral or written account for an administrator, please check with a union rep before doing so, unless there are extremely urgent circumstances (e.g., child cannot be located). Committing your recollections to writing as soon as possible will be more reliable.
More background: Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985) was a case decided by the United States Supreme Court involving a public employee who was dismissed without a pre-termination hearing. It established the right:
- to be apprised of the employer’s charges, evidence, or allegations; and
- to be afforded an opportunity to respond before the decision is made.
Q: Do I have a right to know the charges, evidence or allegations before the due process meeting?
A. The District has the right to pursue an investigation confidentially. Neither you nor MFT has a right to compel the investigatory information the district may have. You have a right to have union representation with you should the District determine it needs to talk to you.
It is usually in your interest to attend and respond on the record before they decide. If there are serious allegations that could involve outside authorities/agencies, (liberty interests), then immediately contact a union rep or MFT directly for more specific advice.
This is not a final conclusion of your due process rights – you have extensive challenge rights that will depend upon the merits and timeliness of seeking MFT’s assistance. The district is allowed to reach its decision and you may have grievance rights. Talk to your MFT rep about that. Your due process rights end when any challenge rights you have are exhausted, not at the end of the due process conference.
Q: Do I call for a sub while I attend a Relations Due Process conference? (Teachers only)
A: Refer to your meeting notice for directions and how to code the system to obtain a sub. Let the office know that you have taken steps to arrange coverage, since your obligation is to attend the meeting without being responsible to return to the site if the sub does not show up.
Q: Can I have a lawyer present at the Employee Relations Due Process conference?
A: The MFT will represent you at the conference. There are significant legal rights subsequent to an employment decision. In particular, your issue could go to an independent legal hearing (called an arbitration) that would be the final, binding conclusion to the matter. The District and the employee are both usually represented by legal counsel at an arbitration.
Q: When does the union provide legal representation to members?
A: MFT will specifically advise you when you legal representation will be provided to you. You will need to be a member (not fairshare) to receive legal representation for individual matters other than “defending the contract” which may include:
- Police interview – indicate you’ll be in contact soon and call MFT immediately.
- Minnesota Dept of Education (MDE) interview on concerns of maltreatment of a student, (when you are the subject of the investigation).
- Board of Teaching or other licensing agency investigations, (you must maintain a "reserve membership" if your employment ends - ask for the application from the MFT office).
Q: When does it matter to be a member vs. fairshare?
A: It matters if you need:
- Discharge cases, MDE maltreatment investigation interviews, Bd of Teaching (teacher licensure) matters, initial assignment of counsel up to point of criminal charges being filed. Grievance support should an individual (not contract defense) issue go to arbitration
- $1M liability policy coverage, (errors and omissions policy), – this covers defending civil litigation, reimbursement of up to $35,000 in criminal defense acquittals
- Continuous payment of dues at the last level while active is required if matters are being pursued while you are on leave or discharged
Q: Is membership automatic?
A: Membership is not automatic! You must fill out a Membership Application (card) and have dues properly deducted to have the benefits of membership.
- To apply for union membership as a teacher or ESP – ask a steward, call MFT, or come by MFT and get an application filled out.
- Dues “Check off” is allowed under state law and the contract for any membership or share amounts to be deducted automatically
- “LOC59FS” means Local 59 Fairshare (not a member) fees are being deducted and you may not be a member
- “LOCAL 59” means you are a member according to our records
Q: Can I be have a membership if I am a discharged or going on leave as a teacher?
A: A "Reserve Membership" is offered through Education Minnesota if you are going on leave or being discharged. You must apply before the leave or discharge takes effect. You must be extending membership (you cannot convert from fairshare to membership status at the same time). The dues must be paid up to the end of the current year (8/31) and renewed prior to 8/31 if you need to take an additional year. Click: Reserve Membership Application (must have "membership" status at time of application).
Q: Can I be a member if I am a substitute teacher?
A: A "substitute membership" is offered by Education Minnesota. It costs $55/year. Click: Substitute Membership Application.
Q: What is administrative leave? Can MPS place me on administrative leave?
A: Administrative leave means you will still be paid but are not to report to work or have contact with colleagues or students. The District is legally allowed to direct you to stay home and pay you while allegations are investigated. This is often the most difficult time in a teacher’s career. Contact MFT for some proactive steps you can take while on leave to prepare yourself. Do not attempt to contact any staff or students during this time, or attempt to investigate on your own, as you may end up violating the directives in the administrative letter and/or may be accused of retaliating against those who may have been asked for a statement in your matter.
Q: What is a Tennessen warning (Data Privacy Act Warning)
A: Tennessen Warning is a requirement to tell you that your responses become part of the District’s record. Under the MN Government Data Practices Act, the school district needs to inform you of:
- Why it’s being collected and how it will be used.
- Whether the individual can refuse or is legally required to provide the data being requested from him or her.
- What consequences are of supplying or not supplying the data.
- What other agencies or person will legally be able to get the data.
Not providing a “Tennessen Warning" means that the data cannot be kept or used – but keep in mind that the warning can be easily remedied by giving it and then asking you the same questions. A Tennessen Warning does not have to be in writing, but a written Tennessen Warning is recommended. See sample Tennessen Warning (Minnesota Data Practices Information Form).
Q: What constitutes “discipline”?
A: Discipline is not being imposed when you receive:
- Notice of Concern and Expectation
- Hallmark: Language to the effect of “This letter shall serve as notice to you…” (meaning it is "notice" of concerns, not discipline resulting).
- Administrative leave for the purpose of investigating is not disciplinary
Discipline is being imposed when you receive:
- A Notice of Deficiency
- “Final Warning”
- Last Chance Agreement
- an unpaid suspension, or
- Hallmark of a disciplinary letter: “Further incidents will lead to further discipline up to and including discharge...” (Implying that there is discipline being imposed and there will be harsher discipline imposed next time).
Q: How much discipline is legally appropriate?
A: Discipline can be imposed with the purpose of seeing that the conduct will not reoccur. Harsher discipline will likely be upheld by an arbitrator if conduct reoccurs after earlier discipline – especially if the conduct is similar or creates a pattern. If the discipline is consistent with or “lighter” than discipline generally imposed in other cases, an arbitrator is less likely to favor a challenge on your case (MFT and/or legal counsel can advise you whether this may be true in your case).
An employee’s entire employment record is “in play” at any given time when discipline is considered – which means the periods of good service as well as disciplinary incidents. Your employment files should be considered important to protect, so make sure you ask about any grievance rights if you get a letter.
Q: What triggers an investigation by the teacher licensing board (Board of Teaching, or “BOT”)?
A: See: BOT Reporting Mandates (2008). Disciplinary suspensions, terminations are among the transactions that are reported to the BOT. If the BOT activates an investigation of your license, you will be individually notified by letter containing the concerns and advised that you may respond within 30 days from the date of the letter.
Q: How do I get assistance with a BOT investigation?
A: If you are a active and a member of MFT, (i.e., signed a membership card and paying member dues – not fairshare) at the time the letter arrives then you will get legal assistance with your response. MFT does not receive notification of this kind of investigation. If you would like assistance, you should notify MFT immediately who will get you in touch with Education Minnesota legal counsel. They will usually work with you 1:1 to follow up and provide a written response to the charges in the BOT letter. Do not ignore a BOT matter.
If you are not actively working, but applied for and have maintained a "Reserve Membership" from Education Minnesota since the time you were active, then you can receive legal services that way as well. Applications can be requested from MFT59 or Education Minnesota.
Q: What is a grievance? Sample Grievance
A: Grievances are a legal challenge to the District to remedy contract violations or unreasonable disciplinary decisions.
There are four levels:
- Building Meeting/Level I
- District Meeting/Level II
- Mediation/Level III, and
- Binding Arbitration/Level IV.
MFT must support the grievance for it to go forward and expects your participation and candid preparation of a written account of your issues or concerns. With that in mind, please be prepared to:
- Keep a record - Write down the sequence of events, keep track of documents, be prepared to concisely and accurately tell your story or show your records and the source of support you have for your side of the story, whether it would be witnesses, documents, past practices, etc.
- Pinpoint the issues, if asked to do so (What is inaccurate in this letter)?
- Explore the assertions of the district (Why would the district conclude that …)?
- State what would resolve the dispute...
- Exercise good faith in responding to the district's assertions or giving credence to accurate assertions.
- Consider writing a rebuttal to a written reprimand if you cannot point to a factual inaccuracy in the reprimand letter.
- Immediately contact an MFT Business Agent and provide any correspondence that you receive.
Q: When/how is a grievance filed?
A: MFT exclusively files grievances on your behalf. They must be filed within 20 duty/school days (weekends, breaks are not counted) from the date of the "harm", (discipline or contract violation), occurs. MFT cannot guarantee the outcome of a grievance, however, MFT's grievance committee can recommend that a grievance be advanced to binding arbitration to pursue a remedy.
Q: What rights do you have if you are discharged from a tenured position for disciplinary reasons?
A: You have rights under the Teacher Tenure Act (MS122A.41). If you are terminated for cause, you need to be formally notified in writing by the Board of Education and individually file a written challenge within 10 days of the date of the school board action. Note: ECFE and ABE teachers do not have statutory rights to tenure status, but may have still have due process rights under the contract. Contact MFT59 ASAP if you have been discharged and have any questions about your rights - your case will be reviewed.
Q: What is realignment? Realignment FAQ
A: Realignment is pretty much a thing of the past, but typically involved retaining a singly licensed teacher by moving a multiply licensed more senior teacher to another license ladder if that would accomplish laying off a less senior teacher than the one originally proposed for layoff. Realignment has been eliminated since the current bargaining agreement between MFT and the District.