Fryeburg Academy prevails in labor dispute; union likely to appeal

By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

FRYEBURG — Fryeburg Academy and its teachers are back to square one — they have no contract.

Back in October, the two sides thought they had reached an agreement and signed on the dotted line, but a disagreement regarding the new salary scale surfaced.

Academy officials claimed that, “This is obviously such a fundamental misunderstanding that we in effect do not have a workable agreement.

The Fryeburg Academy Teachers Association leadership, however, argued the agreement was signed by both parties and the Academy was “obligated to fulfill it.”

“Whatever their misunderstandings are, they stem from their lack of due diligence, not ours,” said FATA president James St. Pierre. “They need to honor their commitments.”

National Labor Relations Board Regional Director Jonathan B. Kreisberg last week sided with Fryeburg Academy on two of three charges filed by the union back in November.

Kreisberg, who is director of the NLRB’s Region 1 office in Boston, Mass., ruled that the two parties never reached a “meeting of the minds” regarding the “migration formula to be used to determine the salary level of each teacher under the terms of the new agreement.”

On a second charge, Kreisberg ruled that a “longstanding past practice between the parties” exists regarding the Academy’s “transmission of individual contracts to each teacher reflecting their terms and conditions of employment, including the disputed salary levels.” Kreisberg ruled that such conduct does not amount to “direct dealing” in violation of NLRB regulations.

A third charge dealt with whether the Academy violated NLRB regulations by not providing union officials with information pertaining to health insurance and various stipends. That charge is pending a settlement agreement between the school and the union.

“The dispute between Fryeburg Academy and the leaders of the union that represents the school’s faculty has been difficult on our entire community,” said Daniel Lee Jr., Fryeburg Academy’s headmaster. “The decision by the National Labor Relations Board gives us the opportunity to move forward collaboratively, to put this behind us, and for the faculty and administration to work together in good faith going forward.”

Headmaster Lee added, “It was clear early on that there was a real misunderstanding about the terms of the contract that we all thought we had agreed to in October. We all thought there was a deal, but it became evident that the faculty’s union leaders and the administration did not agree on the actual terms and they were reading the contract differently than we were. The NLRB agreed with our interpretation.”

The ruling, dated March 19, dismissed the two most serious charges made by the Fryeburg Academy Teachers Association.

“Fryeburg Academy is blessed with a strong, talented and committed faculty. We have good teachers. As we move into the next stages of negotiations, I hope that all the members of our faculty community will get involved and let their voices be heard,” Lee said. “We have an opportunity to return to the constructive and collaborative relationship between the faculty and administration that has been the hallmark of our school.”

FATA president St. Pierre reacted to the NLRB decision by saying, “Given the faculty’s great respect for the mission of the Academy, we are saddened by this conflict that has arisen from the Academy’s denial of a contract that took us eight months to negotiate. Their denial of the faculty’s rights has created a schism that has greatly affected faculty morale and the relationship between the faculty and the administration. However, FATA remains firm in our belief that our cause is just. We feel vindicated that the Academy was found guilty of violating the NLRA by illegally withholding information from FATA, but we are also disappointed, though certainly not discouraged, with the regional director’s ruling that there was ‘no meeting of the minds.’ We will appeal this ruling to the federal level.”

The appeal goes to the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board in Washington, D.C. The appeal is due on April 2. Upon good cause shown, the General Counsel could grant an extension of time to file the appeal. Such an extension request must be filed by April 2.

“Even with all of these conflicts, we want the community to know that the faculty respects the process and will engage in good faith negotiations in the hopes of resolving this matter sooner,” St. Pierre said. “We are in the process of arranging dates (with the Academy).”

As the result of the NLRB ruling, there is no contract between the Academy and the teachers’ union.

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