Sign posted at Newton South High School: One of many of its kind.
In this issue:
The School Committee Negotiations Team cancelled our bargaining session we had scheduled with them for Thursday, December 8. You can see the NTA bargaining proposal and background analysis by clicking below: NTA Bargaining Proposal NTA Bargaining Background Presentation Absenteeism and coverage In the interim, a word on the School Committee proposal to address the problem of absenteeism and coverage. Their proposal is to allocate fewer sick days to first, second and third year employees, prohibit access to the sick leave bank for first and second year employees, and limit the total number of sick bank days available to cover catastrophic illness to 60 days. This proposal, I believe, should be seen in conjunction with the district's refusal this year to extend the availability of COVID days this year. The context: According to data released by the CDC, respiratory or flu like illness--COVID, flu, RSV, etc.--has been more widespread in late November and early December than it has ever been at this time of year. This graphic from the CDC maps the prevalence of "Influenza-like illness" as of November 26, 2022:
Now compare this to the prevalence of Influenza like illness for the past six years at the same time of year: (You can click on the graphics to see larger versions.)
There are a lot of sick people right now. I can imagine that many of you and your household members have caught some sort of bug this fall, and that you may have had to take more days off than you normally would at this point into the school year. Mayor Fuller dedicates a section of her update this week to the current upsurge in respiratory illness. She concludes that "[i]f someone in your family is not feeling well, it can be difficult to figure out whether it is flu, COVID-19, RSV, or a cold. Keep an eye out for a fever and a sore throat or cough. Learn more here. If you have symptoms, Newton HHS recommends you get tested for flu and COVID-19 and talk with your healthcare provider about treatment options. In any case, stay home if experiencing symptoms." If the School Committee's proposal were in place, then there would be a caveat to this recommendation. It would read: "In any case, stay home if you are experiencing symptoms. However if you are a first, second or third year employee in the Newton Public Schools, you may exhaust your allocation of sick days quickly. Not to worry! You may take the days unpaid." In a time when educators and, indeed, the profession of teaching has come under such stress, at a time when public health is still unsettled, the School Committee's proposal has a surreal quality. "Not enough coverage! Let's punish educators who are new to Newton if they need to take days off!" The NTA has put proposals on the table that take a realistic look at the lack of coverage and offer real solutions. These solutions don't come cost free, but they or something like them are necessary. We call on the School Committee and the Mayor to work together to fund real solutions to the chronic lack of coverage!
Labor Relations Update Much of the work the NTA does in "Labor Relations" is supporting individual members, and, as such, we don't share a lot about this work with our membership in order to protect the privacy of these individuals members. But we also sometimes file grievances or unfair labor practice charges that impact members district wide. Here is an update on the status of three such grievances and one unfair labor practice charge.
Unit C Scheduled Hours Grievance
What is the grievance? The Unit C contract requires that, each year, building administrators meet with Unit C employees at the beginning of the school year to schedule their assigned hours, and then send them written confirmation of those hours. A survey the NTA conducted of our Unit C members in October revealed that around one third of respondents had not received their scheduled hour in writing. As a result, we filed a grievance to bring the district into compliance with the contract. Why is this important? First, people need to know their schedules to be able to plan their lives outside of their work for NPS (e.g. child care, second jobs). Second, even though Unit C members receive a yearly salary, they are actually hourly employees. They should only work their scheduled hours, and if they work beyond their scheduled hours, they should be paid for these additional hours. Only if they have an accurate and written schedule of hours can they (1) be sure to only work during those hours and, (2) know when to timesheet additional hours. Status: Along with our grievance, we submitted a “Request for Information” asking the district to produce copies of the written scheduled hours each Unit C staff was supposed to receive. HR provided us theses documents on Monday, November 28, and it appears that all or most of our Unit C staff have by now received a written copy of their scheduled hours. This indicates that our grievance was successful in addressing the earlier failure to provide all employees with a schedule of their hours. If you are a Unit C employee who has still not received a schedule of your hours in writing, please contact your building rep or Chris Walsh, email@example.com. We are currently reviewing the documents so that we can address any issues regarding the schedules. We have, for example, identified a number of cases where the scheduled hours exceed the paid hours. We will begin addressing this issue in a "Labor Relations" meeting this Monday, December 12. We remind all Unit C members that if you work outside of your schedule hours, you should complete timesheets and turn them in. As hourly employees, under state wage and hour laws, the district is legally required to pay you for all hours you work. You can find a timesheet here.
Middle School Early Release Days Grievance What is the grievance? The Middle School Time and Learning Agreement in the Units A and B contracts clearly states that there can be up to four special early release days, yet the district has been been regularly scheduling five. Why is this important? The NTA has been trying to work with the district for years to address inequities in meeting schedules across the four middle schools. These inequities lead to longer work days in some middle schools than in others. In the Fall of 2021, when we attempted to address these inequities with members of the administration, the NTA raised our concern that the number of early release days scheduled exceeded the number allowed by the contract. This is particularly impactful for those educators who experience a longer work day than their colleagues at other schools on these early release days. At that time, we agreed not to challenge the fifth early release day for the 2021-2022 school year, since the calendar had already been developed, but we reserved our right to do so later. In the spring of 2022, we sent notice to the district that we would be enforcing this provision of the contract for the 2022-2023 school year. Despite the fact that we gave notice before the district scheduled early release days, the district went ahead and scheduled five days rather than the contractually permitted four. We filed our grievance to correct this contract violation. Status: On October 21, 2022, the district responded to our grievance and granted it — that is they agreed to remove the additional day from the school calendar as per our grievance and the contract provision. We are currently awaiting the official change to the calendar before withdrawing our grievance. In a recent focus group with Unit B staff, we heard that the removal of the 5th special early release day disrupted scheduled plans for professional development. This disruption was not necessary. Had the administration not ignored the clear contract provision, and our clear statement of intent to enforce it, that fifth day would not have been scheduled to begin with, and thus there would have been no need for a mid year change.
High School Time and Learning Initiatives Grievance
What is the grievance? In the fall of 2021, the NTA filed a grievance that the district violated the High School Time and Learning Agreement of the Unit A and B contracts by introducing new initiatives and dedicating professional development time towards these initiatives rather than towards supporting instruction in the new schedule. The High School Time and Learning Agreement stipulated that in the year the new schedule was introduced, professional development primarily be designed to support instruction in this new schedule, and that no major initiatives not directly related to supporting instruction in the new schedule be implemented. Why is this important? Teaching and learning were extraordinarily difficult last year, much more so than anyone anticipated. Learning to teach within the structure of a new schedule that requires major changes in practice, would, in ordinary circumstances, be challenging and time consuming. The language of the Time and Learning Agreement anticipated the challenges, and built in protections. We filed the grievance to enforce these necessary protections. Status We agreed to a Memorandum of Agreement with the district that (1) restricts initiatives to a specific list—essentially saying: “Don’t introduce any more than you have already introduced”; (2) requires that the administration bring any new initiatives they propose to the High School Joint Oversight Committee before they can be introduced; and (3) specifies that 75% of professional development time during this school year and next shall be centered on providing support for those initiatives that have already been introduced. In effect, the Time and Learning Agreement on Professional Development and Initiatives, set to expire at the end of the last school year, was extended for two more years.
Prohibited Practice Charge: Unlawfully Restraining NTA Members from Displaying Union Signs. What is the charge? The NTA mounted a campaign to stop the budget cuts that the NPS planned last spring. As one action in that campaign, the NTA called on members to post “Stop the Cuts” and “Fully Fund the Schools” signs in their windows, one of many actions the NTA encouraged its members to engage in during a successful campaign to oppose these cuts. The NPS, through Assistant Superintendent Liam Hurley, sent out two emails to members directing them to follow the NPS policy, which, he stated, prohibited members from posting “political” signs in their windows. The NTA brought a charge of prohibited practice against the district with the Department of Labor Relations for denying our members’ the right to display union signs in their classroom windows.
Why is this important? As members of a union, we have legal protection to engage in “concerted union activity,” and defending that right against management encroachment is critical. Since this right is statutory—it is created and protected by laws governing labor and management in the Massachusetts public sector—the NTA, with MTA legal counsel, brought this charge to the Department of Labor Relations to have them investigate. Status This summer, the Department of Labor Relations (DLR) conducted a preliminary hearing on our charge. The Hearing Officer concluded that there is probable cause “the Committee has independently interfered with, restrained, and coerced its employees in the exercise of their rights guaranteed under Section 2 of the law in violation of Section 10(a)(1) of the Law.” She therefore issued a complaint (found here). A 'complaint' is the equivalent, in a case in labor law, of an indictment in a criminal case. This complaint will be followed by a full investigation of the charges. Unfortunately, and, frankly, unfairly, the Department of Labor Relations is really quite slow: A hearing has been scheduled to investigate the complaint, but it won't happen until September of 2023!
As our negotiations process moves ahead, make sure you are following the NTA on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. There will be many upcoming opportunities to send in photos of members from your building, to share action items with your network, and to keep the community informed of our progress.