The Greater Lowell Teachers Organization is made up of teachers, nurses and counselors. The GLTO has been working without a contract since June of 2010. We have tried to bargain in good faith with the School Committee and the Superintendent, but it has been almost impossible. Recently the School Committee and the School Superintendent published information on the School website regarding the progress of collective bargaining. We wish to clear up some misrepresentations and inaccuracies.
Our teachers worked all last year without a contract. During such time we attempted to negotiate with the School Committee to secure a new agreement however those attempts were stymied by the School Committee’s refusal to come to the table. Multiple negotiation sessions were scheduled, only to be cancelled at the last minute by the Committee and not rescheduled for months. Finally, a state mediator had to be called in to facilitate joint meetings to move matters forward.
The issues at the table involve wages, health insurance cost containment and workplace rules.
On the matter of wages, teachers worked last year with a 0% salary increase. During this period the School Committee offered to provide increases for veteran teachers only if those increases were paid for by reducing the wages of less experienced teachers the following year. In other words, any raise for more senior teachers must be paid back with pay cuts for less senior employees. Moreover, the Committee sought to curtail longevity incentives for career service. This was obviously unacceptable and given the School Committee’s lack of presence at the bargaining table, progress was impossible.
On the matter of health insurance costs, our teachers realize that costs of healthcare must be balanced with the need to be properly protected against the devastation of illness or injury. To this end we voluntarily restructured our health plan offerings to eliminate expensive “fee for service” plans and encourage use of more restrictive “managed care” plans. This saved the school district tens of thousands of dollars. We did this outside of the bargaining process and without expectation to receive anything in return. Moreover, we recognize that further discussion on the matter is proper and have been open to the school district interest in negotiating this issue.
Thus, last March, we requested information from the district relative to current health plans so that we could have a reasonable discussion on the issue. The duty to provide that information is the legal responsibility of a public agency. We have yet to receive it despite repeated reminders.
Similarly, we requested information in July regarding the district’s financial audits completed on the school for the past two years to take a look at the spending and assess the financial health of the school system. This information is necessary for intelligent conversation on matters relating to the parties’ proposals. This request has also been ignored. The school district’s lack of response demonstrates its absence of good faith.
Greater Lowell Teachers contribute to their health insurance plan in a manner consistent with other teacher groups from surrounding areas and from schools similar to ours. For example we make the same contribution to our health insurance as teachers at Nashoba Technical High School and Shawsheen Technical High School. Despite this we have expressed willingness to our School Committee to increase the cost of our contribution so long as it is part of a fair comprehensive settlement. This attempt has been rebuffed.
Finally, on the matter of working conditions, the school district seeks to add additional work time to the teacher’s daily schedule while the teachers propose to provide a system wherein a consistent and fair distribution of leave time for teachers would be outlined in the contract. Our proposal does not seek to increase the amount of time teachers would be away from work; rather, it is to insure consistency and transparency in a school district whose reputation has been marred in press and public by accusations of favoritism.
On November 15th, we agreed in principle to the program proposed by the School Committee for teachers to work extra hours but requested of them that the specifics of its proposal be explained to us. The Committee did not provide those specifics, so we are waiting again for more information. The Committee rejected our proposal to address the language on personal leave days.
In response to this absence of good faith our teachers have been attending school committee meetings to voice their displeasure with the lack of progress at the bargaining table. Our attendance has been orderly and professional. The response from certain School Committee members however has been anything but. In fact, at one such meeting the teachers were insulted by the School Committee’s own bargaining chair who taunted them with claims that the school district was in fine financial shape it was just unwilling to share that good fortune with its employees. “We’ve got plenty of money” he bellowed to the group. This disrespect and dismissiveness is consistent with the school district’s overall behavior in the bargaining process.
We have been willing to compromise as the bargaining process demands but this willingness has gotten us nowhere. The teachers of Greater Lowell wish to put this unpleasantness behind us, settle a reasonable contract and concentrate on the matter of educating the district’s children. This goal is undermined by the lack of respect and responsiveness of this School Committee. We fear that continued disruption will have a harmful impact on quality of instruction provided by our teachers.
Congratulations to Greater Lowell Teachers and Students for becoming a level one school for MCAS scores!