Employees sue St. John Schools

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 25, 2007

St. John Assoc. of Educators claim their labor rights were violated by implementation of biometric scanning system


Staff Reporter

RESERVE- A class action suit and two personal grievances are set to go to arbitration against the St. John Parish School Board.

Arbitration is the last step in an effort to avoid bringing the case to court before a jury. Both parties will be required to look at a list of arbitrators, or mediators, who will act as a neutral party to make a decision in the case.

The class action suit was filed by members of the St. John Association of Educators (SJAE) who claim that their labor rights were violated when St. John Parish Schools implemented the biometric scanning system that requires employees to put their thumbprint on an electronic scanning device to better track attendance.

The plaintiffs claim that because the bio-metric scanning is a mandatory procedure that was not brought to the bargaining table for discussion, the board violated labor agreements with the union by not allowing them a say in the matter.

(See CASE, Page 2A)

Julie Richards-Spencer, attorney for the SJAE said, &#8220The board and the superintendent acted unilaterally in the decision to implement the bio-metric system and did not adhere to the collective bargaining agreement which states that the SJAE is to participate in all changes in mandatory procedure.”

The two personal grievances were brought to the board by Herman Clayton and Sandra McCrae based on religious beliefs that the scanning of the swirls and whirls of a thumbprint are ‘God’s number’ for you and that to participate in this action is to bring the end times into being.

Both McCrae and Clayton have refused to use the system and were being allowed to sign in and out with the swipe card system until March 15. The board had allowed them non-compliance of the procedure to adjust to the system until that date. When they were asked to sign in using the new system they refused. They have not been to work since that time.

McCrae’s beliefs are even stronger. She believes that to put her thumbprint into the scanner will allow the devil access to her unique number given to her by God.

Both plaintiffs have asked to be exempted from the swipe card system and given another alternative to signing in and out.

Kevin Kleibert, the attorney representing the administration said that allowing these two people to be exempted could present undue hardship on the school board because inaccurate recordkeeping of time could result in monetary losses such as the ones incurred by the board in their recent struggle with labor issues.

Kleibert also claimed that if they make an exception for these two employees that many other people would ask for the same exclusion ultimately wasting more than $80,000 already invested to put the bio-metric system into place.

Richards-Spencer and Kleibert were both quick to take opposing opinions on a finance committee meeting in which there was a question as to whether or not the biometric system was discussed. It was an important question because an officer SJAE member does sit on the finance committee. However board member Matthew Ory said even if they did discuss this at the finance meeting he questioned whether that is the proper forum to begin collective bargaining.

Superintendent Michael Coburn said that the SJAE was informed of the decision, and did not protest it or begin forming a formal complaint until several months after the system was in place, and that the board acted within its rights.

Ironically, neither Richards-Spencer or Kleibert had the minutes of the meeting in question on hand, nor did they have documentation of Title 7 of the Civil Labor Laws they cited in their possession which both lawyers used to argue their case.

Board member Russ Wise pointed that out to them both, saying that neither lawyer had shown one piece of solid evidence to support their case and that they should be ashamed of themselves for asking the board to make a decision without any proof.

Board president Gerald Keller said that he expects to go to arbitration within 30 -45 days.

&#8220We believe that because of the complex issues associated with this case, our best option is to call in a neutral party and take the case out of the political arena,” he said.

Richards-Spencer said that she is confident that the entire bio-metric scanning system will be thrown out in arbitration.