Before there was a teachers’ union in the Columbus Diocese, teachers had to negotiate their own individual contracts with their principal or pastor. At the high school level, the principal would often pay select coaches a higher salary than other coaches and/or teachers. At the elementary school level, backed by the rationale that men were the heads of the household and women worked just to supplement their husband’s salary, many women teachers were paid a lower salary than men teachers. If you drove a nice car, it was assumed that you didn’t need the money, so you were paid less. There was no standard benefits package. What each teacher’s benefits were could depend upon the wealth of the parish and/or the teacher’s status in their family as primary or secondary wage earner. Sick leave, for those who had it, was generally 10 days a year and was nonaccumulative. There was no grievance procedure.
In the 1960’s, a group of high school teachers and coaches, primarily from Bishop Hartley and Bishop Watterson, took the leadership role in forming a teacher’s association. After a series of meetings, the core group went to Bishop Elwell, who agreed that collective bargaining was a right of the teachers. It was agreed that if the group could demonstrate that they had sufficient representation of the teachers, they could then be the bargaining agent for the teachers in negotiations with the Diocese. There was a strong support for the establishment of the teachers union because of the injustices that were being brought upon the teachers. The teacher’s association was formed in 1968. Initially, the high school teachers and the elementary school teachers had separate associations. By the mid 1970’s, the two associations combined into one bargaining unit and from that point they negotiated as a single, more powerful unit. It represented the full-time teachers of the schools of the Franklin County Vicariates. In 1982, the union was incorporated under the name of Columbus Diocesan Education Association (CDEA).
Until the early 1990’s, the negotiations followed the traditional model of bargaining. This process involved many long meetings, over several months, with multiple offers and counter offers. It was a long and laborious process, spanning sometimes six to eight months, and taking an emotional toll on the negotiators and the members at large. In the early 1980’s the negotiations went to impasse and arbitration in two instances. In spite of this, during these formative years, many areas saw improvements. A uniform salary scale was established and increases in pay were negotiated. In the 1980’s, pay for some Extra Duty Assignments in the high school began. Standardized written individual contracts were created. Benefits and leave policies also became standardized and coverage steadily improved. A grievance procedure was developed that created a more professional and equitable means to handle problems and concerns. Teachers were guaranteed a specific amount of planning time. Strides were made in tuition assistance for children of teachers, and for teachers taking courses in nature. As the need became apparent, CDEA hired a lawyer, Bob Sauter, to help with the negotiations and legal ramifications of a growing teachers’ union. Benefits and rights of the teachers in the Diocese continued to improve. The role of the Building Representative from the beginning has been a vital one, members working for members.
With the negotiations of 1994, the Association and the Diocese agreed to the concept of Interest Based Concentrated Bargaining. The bulk of negotiations is now completed during a weekend retreat, emphasizing a cooperative atmosphere rather than an adversarial approach. This approach required greater advanced preparation but accelerates the actual negotiations process. In subsequent negotiations, the model has been refined and adjusted to meet the unique needs of the joint negotiating committee. There is a significant level of trust that is essential for such a process to be successful. That trust level has grown as experience with the process has.
Also In the 1990’s, CDEA leadership led a movement towards a more global outlook for the association. They attended the convention of the national Catholic teachers’ association and came away with a sense that there was much to gain for networking with other unions from around the US and with a national organization. In 1996, CDEA members approved the affiliation with National Association of Catholic School Teachers (NACST).
With this action, the union gained the expertise, financial and legal support of an organization committed to promoting the welfare and rights of Catholic school teachers. In more recent years, the leadership of COACE has taken an active role in the NACST organization. We have had past Presidents serve on NACST executive boards and we attend annual conventions to gain more insight for our teachers. NACST has also assisted with training sessions for the negotiations committee.
In 1997, the name change of the association to the Central Ohio Association of Catholic Educators (COACE) reflected what was happening in the membership. At that time, St. Mary’s Lancaster, a school outside the Franklin County Vicariates, affiliated with COACE. Although they had their own association, they felt it was time to avail themselves to the resources COACE could offer them as an affiliate. Since then, Fisher Catholic and St. Francis DeSales Newark have affiliated. This affiliation has allowed them to utilize the services of both COACE and NACST.
In 2002, COACE negotiated a three-year Agreement that included the highest salary increases in the history of the association. This increase significantly narrowed the gap between the Catholic school teachers that COACE represented and their public school counterparts. This was accomplished through a lot of hard work, but also due to the working relationship COACE leaders and the leadership of the Diocese have aggressively nurtured.
The following Agreements have continued to see great benefits added for our teachers, including a pension bonus increase and an additional personal day for special events that might arise. In our most recent negations, we progressed toward a more equitable pay scale, particularly recognizing those teachers who have made a commitment to their own education through graduate degrees.
Looking back at the history of this association, it is striking to see how far we have come. In a letter to CDEA in 1987 from Dr. Carolyn Jurkowitz, then departing acting Superintendent of schools of the Columbus Diocese, she stated: “The CDEA is one of the greatest strengths of the Diocese of Columbus. I wish you well in convincing other teachers of that. It’s critically important to individual teachers (first), the principle of justice, to professionalism and to the quality of Catholic schooling that CDEA remain viable.”
We are thankful to those who came before us who were convinced of the importance of the association. With forty years of history, COACE looks to the future with the commitment to follow the association’s tradition of “Teachers working for teachers”. It is to the full-time teachers’ advantage – be they the 500 + elementary school teachers or the 200 + high school teachers – to have COACE be the unified voice for all.
Members may differ in the curriculum they teach; in the methodology they employ; in their experience level, but they remain Catholic school teachers of the Diocese of Columbus. They remain teachers united to protect the rights of all of their fellow teachers.
COACE Executive Board
Erica Gowitzka- President
Lori Schnegg- Vice President
Leslie Kraus- Secretary
Diane Keenan- Treasurer
Kathy McBride- Elementary Rep
Adam Smith- High School Rep
Leslie Anderson- Rep-at-Large