A School Board member and the president of the Buffalo teachers union testified Saturday that they believe the Buffalo Board of Education must accept a contract that board members rejected last Sept. 26.
Oscar Smukler of the North District and Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo Teachers Federation, appeared at the hearing. The union is seeking to win the 35 percent raise and four-year contract that the board turned down in a 5-4 vote. The hearing before the state Public Employment Relations Board was held at union headquarters.
Smukler, North District representative for 13 years, said he has participated in caucuses preceding ratification of 20 different union contracts. Each time, he said, the board indicated to the superintendent during negotiations what it would accept, and the superintendent would obtain those items.
"I believe that is what happened here," he said of the most recent contract negotiations.
During five months of bargaining, Smukler said, board members did not challenge the conditions that they turned down after Superintendent Albert Thompson brought in the completed agreement.
Rumore testified that he and Thompson reached their first tentative agreement June 11, providing a 34.6 percent raise over four years. Thompson later that day reported that his negotiating team rejected the pact, Rumore said.
But on Sept. 1, when he and Thompson both initialed the tentative pact now in dispute, there was no sign of reluctance from the other four members of the district's team, Rumore said.
The union ratified the contract Sept. 3, and the union contends that the board's rejection followed a skewing of information about what the contract would cost.
Rumore said that, in the prior five negotiations in which he participated, the board figured the cost of each successive year based only on what that single year would add to the budget.
He claimed that an analysis by a board employee, showing a $59 million cost for the first three years, was distorted.
"I have never seen it done like this before," Rumore said.
But while he objected to the method, Rumore -- under examination -- did not challenge the accuracy of the figures.
"Is it your contention that over three years the board would not have spent that $59 million?" board attorney Karl W. Kristoff asked.
"No, it is not," Rumore replied.
Kristoff questioned Rumore closely about discussions of work-action and the strike atmosphere that existed at various times before the union voted in late September to seek action through PERB.
Rumore denied saying June 11 that he possessed a list, known only to him, of schools where informational picketing would occur if 11th hour negotiations failed to produce a settlement.
Rumore also told Kristoff that he could recall only one "No Contract No Work" sign at a union rally Sept. 26, a few hours before the board rejected the contract. He said the sign was a holdover from a past year.
Kristoff then produced a copy of the November issue of The Provacator, the union paper, with rally pictures, and asked Rumore to count the "No contract No Work Signs."
Rumore counted four such signs in three pictures but said some might show the same person.
Thompson appeared at the hearing late Saturday afternoon. After a conference among board lawyers, it was announced that the union rested the first part of its case on the issue of whether the board -- by its actions -- has waived its right to ratify and must accept the contract.
Thompson will testify when the board opens its case Jan. 3.
Testimony on a second union charge, alleging bad-faith negotiations, will begin when evidence on the ratification issue is complete.
Hearing Officer Harvey Marlowe also will rule on whether the union must answer board counter-charges that the union threatened an illegal strike, made a pretense of bargaining and insisted on negotiating questions -- such as class size -- not within the scope of bargaining under PERB.