As tensions over mediated contract negotiations continue, educators will stop non-essential work
By Ben Parra
On Monday, February 27, School Committee members of the Amherst-Pelham Education Association (APEA) moved to withdraw from voluntary activities and work strictly according to their contractual obligations to protest the lack of progress in contract negotiations.
In an email to The Shoestring, Claire Cocco, communications director for the APEA, explained the tactic, known as “working to rule”:
“Each building took votes on how this would apply in their work setting. Generally, the school day is not affected, but communication outside of work hours will be curtailed, voluntary work (unpaid clubs, for example) will end, generally, work outside of contract hours is not happening.”
The School Committee has refused to meet with APEA representatives , which, according to a press release from APEA President Lamikco Magee, “is the fastest way to settle this contract crisis,”
“We are proud of what we do and we remain committed to providing students with the highest quality education, Magee said. “Unfortunately, we have been pushed into taking this step. We will continue to carry out essential duties, but we will strictly follow our contractual obligations until we resolve the contract crisis.”
The move comes after over a year of negotiations with the school committee, during which time educators have been without a clear contract. Negotiations have been in mediation since July of last year, with the district and the union unable to reach agreement over cost-of-living adjustments. The APEA hopes that the move to work to rule will pressure the school committee into abandoning mediation and returning to face-to-face negotiations.
Under mediation, the negotiating parties do not bargain directly. Instead, communication happens through a third party, in this case a representative from the state’s Department of Labor Relations. According to Cocco, this process slows negotiations, and allows the school committee to “continue proposing the same things over and over.”
The APEA plans to combine the move with several actions over the next month, inviting community members to support the union’s proposals for better funding across the district. On Thursday, March 9, prior to the next round of contract mediation slated for the following day, the union will hold a rally in Amherst center at 3:45 p.m. In addition, the APEA asks community members to sign a petition demanding that the School Committee end meditation and come back to the negotiating table with the union.
As The Shoestring reported last month, Amherst-Pelham educators have grown frustrated with staffing shortages, uncompensated labor, and negligible contractual increases that fail to keep up with rising costs in a time of record inflation. The union has proposed a cost of living (COLA) increase of 3.25% for teachers over the first year of the contract, with subsequent increases of 4% and 5% in the following years. The proposal would also include a 6% raise for paraeducators.
The School committee has proposed a COLA offer of 2.5%, 2.5%, and 2% across three years; however, when measured against an additional proposal to add two unpaid days to the school calendar, the real value of their COLA offer amounts to even less than the figures proposed. In addition to the offer, the committee has proposed to eliminate “reduction in force” protection, meaning that educators’ jobs or hours can be cut without advance notice.
In an email to The Shoestring, Amherst-Pelham School Committee Chair Ben Herrington noted that the school committee will continue negotiating via mediation. “When we went to the state a year ago, the Department of Labor agreed with our petition for mediation and concluded that mediation was necessary to move negotiations forward,” Herrington said. “Nothing has changed regarding that decision. We have made far more progress, in terms of getting closer to agreement, than we had previously.”
“The APEA continues to contend that a budget is a moral document, reflective of a community’s values,” Cocco said. “Families of Amherst and the towns in the region want more for their kids than what is currently being offered by the school committee.”
Ben Parra is a reporter and librarian living in Easthampton. Photo Courtesy of APEA’s Facebook Page.
The Shoestring is committed to bringing you ad-free content. We rely on readers to support our work! You can support independent news for Western Mass by visiting our Donate page.