Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles is moving to rewrite the district’s process of consulting with unions on working conditions, with one revision eliminating the requirement that employee groups get informed of key changes to labor practices before they are finalized.

The proposed shift represents an effort to “streamline” decision-making, Miles’ administration wrote in a board meeting agenda released Monday night, though it faces opposition from union leaders. The board is scheduled to meet for an agenda review Thursday before potentially voting on the rewrite at an Aug. 10 meeting.

Miles’ move, if approved by the board, would further sideline already-weakened unions in HISD, which have lost virtually all influence over the district’s direction since the ouster of HISD’s superintendent and elected school board in June. Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath, a frequent target of union criticism, replaced the board and chief executive this summer as part of state sanctions largely tied to chronically poor academic ratings at Wheatley High School.

Houston Federation of Teachers President Jackie Anderson, who leads the district’s largest union, called the move a “blatant effort” by Miles “not to work with your teachers you say you love.”

“With the stroke of a pen and a few scratch-outs, now you’re taking away … the desire to work with the union,” Anderson said. “It shows that this superintendent, nor this board, has any intention of working with the community or the stakeholders.”

HISD’s administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

The formal practice of consultation, in which union leaders discuss important labor matters with HISD administrators, remained one of the few opportunities for labor organizers to voice their opinions in a structured setting. The district’s current policy requires HISD to hold monthly consultation meetings and solicit input from employee groups before making any changes to wages, hours or working conditions.

The proposal from Miles says the district “may consult” with its employees on issues related to school policy and employment conditions, but does not require leadership to do so. 

However, there is some ambiguity in the proposed policy about whether district officials will keep meeting with employee groups on a regular basis. One section of the proposed revision states the process of consultation “shall be continuous throughout the school year and shall be as comprehensive as is administratively feasible.”

Union power in the consultation process is already relatively weak. Current HISD rules state that the district is not bound to abide by union recommendations.

Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles speaks with Dana Castro
Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles speaks with Dana Castro after a community engagement event Thursday at Sugar Grove Academy on the district’s west side. (Antranik Tavitian / Houston Landing)

Anderson acknowledged that teachers had accomplished “not too much” through the consultation process in recent months. However, the process represented a chance for teachers to get advance notice on upcoming policies and contribute to the dialogue, she said.

HISD officials have canceled consultation meetings for the past two months, during which Miles has started implementing numerous changes impacting employees, Anderson said. HISD’s board policy does not specify any punishment for failing to follow rules related to consultation.

Wretha Thomas, president of the Houston Educational Support Personnel union, said the workers she represents have previously won raises through the consultation process. She has a standing meeting scheduled for Aug. 8 with district officials, and she has not been informed of a cancellation, she said.

The news of the proposed rewrite to the consultation rules was an unwelcome surprise for Thomas.

“That’s nothing but a form of union-busting,” she said.

In years past, HISD union officials largely wielded power by helping to elect school board members who shared their education and labor philosophy. Union-endorsed candidates held eight of the nine HISD board seats in 2018, though that tally dropped to four before the board’s ouster.

Miles and Morath, who appointed all nine replacement board members, generally oppose practices pushed by unions. Texas law further limits union power by prohibiting collective bargaining and effectively barring school employees from going on strike.

Update, Aug. 1, 3:30 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify the period of time referenced by Jackie Anderson regarding accomplishments in consultation.

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Asher Lehrer-Small is a K-12 education reporter for the Houston Landing. He previously spent three years covering schools for The 74 where he was recognized by the Education Writers Association as one...