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Boston teachers’ union holds walk-in to protest stalled contract negotiations

City signs pricey police union deal while teachers’ contract talks drag

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Boston teachers’ union holds walk-in to protest stalled contract negotiations
A few days after A Day Without a Woman, Boston teachers staged school-site protests, with members alleging that misogyny is behind city officials offering less favorable conditions to the female-dominated teachers’ union than officials did to a male-dominated union. (Photo: Photo: Courtesy Boston Teachers’ Union)

Teachers mounted a walk-in protest at 115 Boston schools last Friday to draw attention to their stalled contract negotiations. The Boston Teachers Union’s bargaining with the city has snagged on several points around pay, teacher-to-student ratio for inclusionary classrooms and assignment for “excessed” teachers, according to BTU president Richard Stutman. A BTU press release also notes requests for paid parental leave for early-career teachers as well as smaller kindergarten class sizes.

Negotiations began in January 2016 to replace the teacher contract expiring in August of that year, and are still underway.

“We’ve been negotiating for 14 months, and we’ve met 32 times in negotiations, for over 200 hours, but we have had no success,” said Melanie Allen, a Boston Public Schools parent, teacher and BTU negotiating team member, in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association’s negotiations have sailed through relatively briskly and bring significant increases, largely through bumps to non-salary pay and benefits. It will cost the city approximately $68 million over three years.

The Walsh administration’s 2018 fiscal year school budget includes about $20 million set aside for costs associated with collective bargaining.

The disparity in the teachers’ versus patrolmen’s negotiations points to what some say is a long-running divide in the groups’ bargaining abilities.

BPS has 10,255 employees, approximately 4,517 of whom are teachers, according to fiscal year 2017 data. The Boston Police Department employs 2,713 people, 2,144 of whom are police officers.

Seeking equal recognition

BTU president Richard Stutman noted that while another, predominately male union has settled negotiations, BTU is still fighting for a similar package. He avoided identifying the specific union.

“We’re seeking something comparable to what has already been offered to at least one union in the city,” Stutman told the Banner. “We’ve been offered a lot less than they’ve already settled for.”

He said does not contest the value of the other union’s work, but rather wants recognition that “our jobs are equally hard.”

According to Stutman, the lagging negotiations and lower offerings are a statement that city has low esteem for women, who comprise 76 percent of the teaching workforce. If paraprofessionals are included in the count, women comprise roughly 80 percent of the BTU, he said.

“We feel the reason for disparate treatment is that we have a predominately female working force and the union that was settled has a predominately male working force. We think our people are undervalued by the city,” Stutman said. “We’ve raised the same issues about disparate treatment because of gender before.”

A different toolset

The BTU is among 38 unions which have yet to settle their contracts, according to Sam Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau.

During a hearing on the police budget, many city councilors were quick to thank the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association for not resorting to binding arbitration. This tool, which is not available to the teachers’ union or other civilian unions, makes it easier to bring a final resolution to the deal-making and previously has resulted in high-cost BPPA contracts.

“Not having a binding arbitration process means that it [the teacher’s contract] just has to be negotiated, however long it takes,” Tyler said in a Banner phone interview.

In part, this can be problematic because contracts are one way the city secures reforms it wishes to see, Tyler said. The longer it takes to reach a deal on money and conditions, the longer it takes for any departmental changes to go through. In this year’s bargaining processes, it appears the city is pushing harder for the school department to make operational changes than it did for in the police department, Tyler said.

Arbitration also traditionally has produced highly favorable contracts for the BPPA in the past. The police secured their latest contract through arbitration in 2013, under which they received a 25.4 percent pay hike.

“This contract was overly generous,” stated the Boston Municipal Research Bureau in an online post. The Research Bureau post noted that BPPA’s contract terms had ripple effects — they established a precedent that other police unions, such as the Superior Officers and Superior Detectives, could refer to in their own bargaining the following year.

With the police securing pay increases of about 25 percent, detectives bargained through arbitration for 28 percent, Tyler said. Civilian unions, unequipped with that right, managed 12.6 percent increases, on average. Although in its last contract the BTU agreed to a similar level, traditionally they have been able to get somewhat more favorable terms than other civilian unions, Tyler said.

“I think [BTU]’s been successful [in negotiating in past]. Generally, teachers fare a little better than other civilian unions, but not better than public safety unions,” Tyler said.

The Boston Globe notes that while teachers can earn stipends from working summer sessions and extended schools days or from earning advanced degrees, police have greater income-boosting options such as working overtime and paid details.

Former City Councilor Chuck Turner, who served on the council from 2000 to 2010, said that in his experience, police and fire were able to secure higher pay than other unions, with arbitration abilities acting as a powerful tool.

“[Arbitration] was a major factor in their ability to leverage the higher wages.” Turner recalled in a Banner phone interview. “The police and fire people had much more impact. They are able to leverage the higher rates of pay in a way that the other unions aren’t able to. … There’s a logic to funding police and fire well, but I felt they sometimes got more than their fair share.”

During Turner’s decade on the City Council, the state reduced its funding to municipalities from 30 percent to about 18 percent, Turner said. The way the city absorbed the new costs largely shielded the police department and hit teachers and administrators.

“The impacts were at times very severe on the school teaching and administrative population,” Turner said. “The police department didn’t suffer in the same way from those cuts.”

According to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance data, in the last two weeks of December 2016, a time when many donors max out their contributions to politicians, ten donors identifying themselves as police officers donated $1,900 to Mayor Martin Walsh. In that same period, just two people identifying themselves as BPS teachers donated $100 each to Walsh. The BPPA Political Action Committee had $369,709 in its coffers as of the Feb. 28 filing deadline with the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance. The BTU had $10,390 in the same filing period.

BPPA contract, 2017

This year, the BPPA secured a 2 percent annual pay raise over three years, as well as provisions increasing pay for hazardous duty, step raises and the city’s responsibility to fund the Quinn Bill, a benefit that increases salaries for officers holding higher degrees. Currently the city provides 75 percent of funding for the Quinn Bill, while only a few years ago it split costs 50-50 with the state. Now the city will take on the entire cost.

“Fifty-four percent of the cost of the contract has nothing to do with the salary,” Tyler said.

During the budget hearing, several city councilors said overtime is an area of concern and asked if hiring more officers would lighten the budget.

Tyler said that he did not necessarily advise against approving the BPPA contract, only that the city understand the full financial impacts, including on contracts with other unions and on the availability for funds for different areas of the city budget. He extended the same concern to the pending teachers’ contract.

“I think were’ starting to see already that there’s some impact on other city services in not having as much of a budget increase as police salary or schools, in part because employee costs are so high,” Tyler said.

BTU contract, 2017?

Stutman said that along with seeking what the BTU regards as sufficient pay raises, the union also wants assurances that excessed teachers who have been rated “proficient” or “exemplary” are quickly placed in full-time teaching roles. Another major sticking point is the BTU’s request that inclusionary classrooms cap at 18 students per teacher, rather than the current 20 to 25 student count, and that each class has a paraprofessional, he said.

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