Southampton teachers union wants to wrap up negotiations without mediator 

  • Southampton teachers working without a contract picket in front of Norris Elementary School, Nov. 5. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 11/29/2018 11:37:55 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — Nearly 25 teachers and supporters urged the Southampton School Committee Wednesday night to sign off on cost-of-living wages as part of a new contract under negotiation — and to urge the committee to wrap up those stalled talks before waiting for mediation.

Speaking on behalf of the Southampton Teachers Association, which represents teachers and other members of William E. Norris School faculty, co-president Stacy Ashley delivered prepared remarks to the committee at its meeting held at the school’s library.

“We ask that the committee consider a fair, multiyear deal that includes a pay raise commensurate with the cost-of-living increase,” Ashley said. “We also hope that we can come to this agreement the way we have historically done so, without waiting for mediation.”

Ashley said a teacher in the STA earns about $63,180 a year, on average. That figure is lower than the $72,794 that some media outlets have reported in recent days, she said.

Additionally, the average salary for paraprofessionals in the union is $23,449; for administrative assistants it’s $43,285; and for custodians it’s $42,387, according to Ashley.

School committee members did not respond to Ashley’s public comments at Wednesday’s meeting.

Bringing in a mediator could help resolve contract negotiations, Aaron Osborne, superintendent of the Hampshire Regional School District, said on Thursday. 

“Sometimes we find ourselves in places where we disagree,” said Osborne, noting that even though the School Committee had suggested a mediator as a possibility, it was the STA that filed for one.

“We would have liked to resolve negotiations without a mediator, but we are at a point that a mediator might help,” Osborne said.  

The teachers’ contract expired Aug. 31, and since February, negotiations for a new contract have come to an impasse, Ashley said.

A one-year deal offered by the School Committee that did not include a pay raise was rejected and now the STA have filed for a mediator for the first time in the 19 years Ashley has taught at Norris, she said.

On behalf of the STA, the Massachusetts Teachers Association has also filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state Department of Labor Relations against the Southampton School Committee.

The complaint alleges that during a special Town Meeting in May, while negotiations were ongoing, town officials made promises to the public about teachers’ salaries not being raised.

There will be a hearing for the complaint on Jan. 25, and Ashley said she expects a mediator not to be appointed until after that complaint is settled.

Responding to the labor complaint, Osborne said he has not heard who specifically made those comments at the special Town Meeting. Osborne also noted that since the School Committee is the negotiating body with the STA, no other town officials would’ve had the authorization to make such promises.  

STA members want to see multiyear deal and Ashley called the one-year deal “unacceptable.”

A multiyear deal was never off the table, Osborne said. The one-year deal offered would’ve served as a “bridge,” Osborne said, because teachers and faculty are currently working on an expired contract. 

“We would rather come to a multiyear agreement and spend efforts supporting students rather than ironing out one-year contracts,” Osborne said. 

Teachers are picketing outside the schools in the mornings and they’ve adopted “work-to-rule” — where teachers only work their contr        actual day until 3:20 p.m. and are not staying for after-school committees or activities. Ashley said morale has been affected by the rule.

“As great as it is that everyone is coming together, it takes its toll,” Ashley said. “Teachers want to feel supported and we definitively do not.”

Susan Hale, STA member, said members of other school unions — from Northampton, Hatfield, Easthampton and Belchertown — have shown their support by standing with them in picket lines and attending meetings like the one on Wednesday.

Lawrence O’Brien, president of the Belchertown Teachers Association, said he came to support Southampton teachers on Wednesday because, “I know how impo rtant it is to get support from another district.”

Recalling teachers’ contract negotiations in Belchertown that lasted for two years, from 2016 to 2018, O’Brien said getting support from residents in town and the surrounding area make a “tremendous difference.”

“I’m here to do the same for another local,” O’Brien said.

Luis Fieldman can be reached at lfieldman@gazettenet.com


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