Juneau teachers limit their work to paid hours during contract negotiations

Chris Heidemann
Juneau Education Association president Chris Heidemann speaks at a school board meeting on Tuesday, April 11, 2023. (Katie Anastas/KTOO)

The Juneau teachers’ union has directed its members to work to contract. That means they’ll work only as much as their contract requires — not before and after school or during lunch breaks.

Wednesday’s move came a day before the union and school district are set to resume negotiating a new contract.

“It’s one of the few things we can do to shine a spotlight on exactly what the school district is getting from us on a daily basis, and what it looks like when we start to pull back,” said Juneau Education Association president Chris Heidemann.

Heidemann said he thinks almost all of the union’s more than 300 members are participating.

“We wanted to put a little bit of extra pressure on the district to settle a fair contract, and it seemed like it was the right time to move forward with some action,” he said.

The teachers’ previous contract expired in June 2022. Heidemann said the union is asking members to work this way for the rest of the school year or until they reach a tentative agreement with the district.

For students, the decision means they won’t have access to teachers for extra help outside regular class time. Heidemann said teachers have also given up their planning periods to work in other classrooms amid a shortage of substitutes. The union is asking teachers to stop doing that, too.

Heidemann said parents should know their kids are “still getting excellent instruction” — just not the additional support teachers usually provide for free.

“The reason we do this is to highlight the amount of free labor that the system is kind of built upon,” Heidemann said. “Most teachers arrive on a normal day well before their contract starts, they often work through their lunch or work with students during their lunch, and they often stay well beyond their contract time at the end of the day, working with students who need extra help.”

School board president Deedie Sorensen said she understands how much work that is.

“I’m a retired school teacher, so I have a very robust idea of how much school teachers do outside of their school day,” she said. 

Sorensen said she hopes the union and district will reach an agreement with the help of a mediator.

“During the course of the school day, my expectation — and I’m sure everybody’s expectation — is that teachers will be doing their jobs,” she said. “Because working to rule doesn’t say you don’t do your work.”

Superintendent Bridget Weiss was unavailable for comment on Wednesday.

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