Advisory Opinion No. 99-36

Re: Roderick DaSilva

QUESTION PRESENTED

The petitioner, a Town of North Providence School Committee member, a municipal elected position, requests an advisory opinion as to 1) whether as a member of the School Committee’s Negotiating Sub-committee, he may negotiate the terms of the next collective bargaining agreement with the North Providence Federation of Teachers Local 920; and 2) whether he may participate and vote on matters concerning the collective bargaining agreement with Local 920, given that his wife is a teacher in the North Providence School District and a member of Local 920 which, in turn, is a member of the American Federation of Teachers, given that as a teacher in the City of Cranston school system he is a member of Local 1704 of the Cranston Teachers Alliance, which also is a member of the American Federation of Teachers, and has served on his local's negotiating committee.

RESPONSE

It is the opinion of the Rhode Island Ethics Commission that the petitioner, a Town of North Providence School Committee member, a municipal elected position, may participate and vote on matters relating to the collective bargaining agreement with Local 920 provided that his spouse, a teacher in the school system and a member of Local 920, is not affected individually by the agreement, except as a member of the entire class of teachers or union members in North Providence. The petitioner also may participate in negotiations with Local 920 provided that it is not reasonably foreseeable that terms of the agreement to be considered could affect his spouse individually, again, except as a member of the entire class of teachers or union members. This opinion is based on and limited by Section 7(b) of the Code which provides that the petitioner may participate in actions as a public official so long as they do not affect him or his family to any greater extent than any other similarly situated member of a significant and definable class.

The petitioner advises that he is a teacher in the Cranston School District and a member of the Cranston Teachers Alliance Local 1704. He has served on a Teacher Negotiating Committee for Local 1704’s collective bargaining agreement. He represents that his wife is a tenured teacher at the Ricci Grammar School in North Providence and a member of the North Providence Federation of Teachers Local 920. Both Local 1704 and Local 920 belong to the American Federation of Teachers. He indicates that Local 920 has 285 members.

The Ethics Commission has concluded in past advisory opinions that it was not a violation of the law for School Committee members with family members in the school system to participate in negotiations and votes on contracts so long as the family members were part of a significant and definable class; for example, all of the teachers in a school system. Correspondingly, the Commission has concluded that School Committee members with family members in the school system may not participate in negotiations or voting when a matter concerns a family member who belongs to a more limited, subset of union members (e.g., school nurses or teachers’ aides). See A.O. 97-65 and A.O. 95-23.

Here, the petitioner may participate in negotiations and voting with regard to the collective bargaining agreement with Local 920, provided that all members of that class are affected by the agreement in the same fashion. In the event that the agreement would affect his wife as a subset of union members or teachers in the school system, however, the petitioner should recuse himself from participation and vote. Notice of recusal should be filed with both the Ethics Commission and the School Department in accordance with R.I. Gen. Laws § 36-14-6.

Finally, that the petitioner and his spouse both belong to locals of the American Federation of Teachers does not in and of itself preclude his participation in the negotiations. There is no evidence that such action with Local 920 would impact the petitioner's own contract or financial interests. See A.O. 96-92, A.O. 96-60.

(Note that the issue of whether the class exception should apply to school committee/family member issues has been discussed at various junctures over the years by the Commission. Additionally, whether there should be more restrictions for negotiating contracts since one does not know at the outset whether or to what extent all the persons subject to the contract will be treated the same has been an issue in this and in other contexts. See A.O. 92-53 (concluding that a Tiverton School Committee member could not participate in negotiations of the new teachers’ contract because his spouse is a teacher covered by that contract). See also various opinions issues to legislators finding that they should not participate in negotiations related to pension benefits for state workers and teachers since they had an interest and because the class exception could not be applied because of the tentative nature of which groups would be significant and definable during the negotiations. A.O. 95-54, A.O. 95-55, A.O. 95-56, A.O. 95-63, A.O. 95-64, A.O. 95-69, A.O. 95-70, A.O. 95-75.)

Code Citations:

36-14-5(a)
36-14-5(d)
36-14-6
36-14-7(a)
36-14-7(b)

Related Advisory Opinions:

99-4
98-172
98-162
98-130
98-32
97-118
97-65
97-52
96-96
96-60
95-54
95-63
95-64
96-69
95-70
95-75
95-23
94-44
94-29
94-27
92-53

Keywords:

Class exception
Contracts
Family member: public employment
Negotiations
Unions/bargaining unit