‘Widespread mistreatment’ at ESD, union says

District administrators, workers talking culture improvements

ALPENA — Employees face “widespread mistreatment” at the Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District, union officials say.

At a June 13 ESD board meeting attended by about 40 employees, for example, a union official criticized district administrators for not allowing a pregnant employee to work, though her doctor said she could.

“We deserve to be heard,” Gary Wellnitz, a representative for the American Federation of Teachers, told the board at that meeting, reading from a letter written on behalf of the district’s professional staff. “We deserve to be taken seriously. We deserve better.”

ESD Superintendent Scott Reynolds said Wednesday he met with union officials earlier this week to discuss moving forward and to work on relationships, but he criticized the union for taking concerns public, rather than using the district’s existing structure for staff concerns.

“The professional and paraprofessional unions chose to take these matters to the public at the board meeting rather than through customary channels, which was disappointing,” he said.

“We felt we were stuck,” said Olivia Lehr, president of the ESD professional staff union. “We kind of hit a wall, and we felt like we really had no choice but to bring some public attention at that point.”

The pregnant employee, who was not named at the meeting, was placed on unpaid medical leave, though she had a doctor’s note stating she was able to perform her regular duties while pregnant. The employee, who Lehr refused to name, returned to work after using seven sick days.

The letter Wellnitz read at the June meeting stated that administrators and employees had brainstormed several solutions to create a “more positive workplace culture,” but little progress had been made.

Reynolds, in a letter to the board and employees dated July 11, said he and his team had implemented different things to bring district employees together, including a scholarship program for local students, two workgroups to include more employee input, and events and activities in which staff could participate.

“There has been no shortage of effort and resources spent to address the issue of organizational culture and climate by me and my administration,” Reynold’s letter stated. “There have been concrete outcomes, including steps to increase an active and positive dialogue between admin and all staff.”

The two workgroups are no longer a thing, Lehr said, but the union is hoping those can start up again.

Lehr said Wednesday the union is interested in moving forward.

“I think we are interested in working toward making some positive changes for everyone involved,” she said.

Reynolds said that, despite the disagreements, he supports his staff.

“In the end, I can say that AMA has a highly skilled, passionate staff who are dedicated to serving the students of our region,” Reynolds said.

Julie Goldberg can be reached at 989-358-5688 or jgoldberg@thealpenanews.com. Follow her on Twitter @jkgoldberg12.

If you go

∫ WHAT: Alpena-Montmorency-Alcona Educational Service District Board of Education meeting

∫ WHEN: 6 p.m. today

∫ WHERE: AMA ESD administration building, 2118 U.S.-23 S.

∫ INFO: Call 989-354-3101 or visit amaesd.org