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  • Writer's pictureMike Zilles

NTA EBulletin June 4, 2023

Updated: Jun 5, 2023



In this issue:


The negotiations update this week is quite lengthy. I apologize for that in advance, even as I ask you to please read it through carefully. We are moving into a new phase in these negotiations. What that means will become clear as you read. This update should serve as a reference point as we go forward. If it helps, please think of reading this update as a contract action...part of your contribution to our contract campaign. What will be clear as you read is how much we your support is essential. In the following section on our contract action campaign, you will be then be able to:

  • Take the contract action survey, and let us know what you are willing to do for the campaign for the remainder of this year, during the summer, and in the fall.

  • Sign up for actions for the remainder of this year by using the sign up links--for our last "Line the Halls" actions, for our June 15 rally, for a lawn sign if you live in Newton.


At the Negotiations Table: Session 12

Thursday, June 1, 2023

by Elizabeth Ross Del Porto and Mike Zilles First, our gratitude - your NTA Negotiations Team met again with members of the NPS Admin Team and School Committee, and the raucous Line the Halls group was on fire! We began negotiations to the sound of clapping, stomping, chanting, and cowbells. THANK YOU!

**********


Now, the bargaining session itself. School Committee Vice Chair Kathy Shields led off the session by remarking that their side appreciated that the tone thus far has been collegial, with each side listening and responding to the other, resulting in a number of tentative agreements. But, she said, today, in the interest of moving the negotiations along, they would begin “a new phase” of bargaining by presenting us with a comprehensive package proposal. We thought that it seemed early for this–that we were still too far apart, with still too many unresolved proposals on the table. But we were listening. Well, they moved us into a new phase–that’s for sure. Boy, did they ever. With a few very minor adjustments here and there, what they actually did was bundle together all the proposals they currently have on the table and reject all of ours, essentially saying, “Take all of this or leave it.” But was there an enticement, a carrot, a compelling reason for us to accept this? No. See below: the changes from their May 18 proposal are highlighted. Units A, B, E

School Year

May 18, all steps except top step

May 18, top step

June 1, all steps except top step

June 1, top ste

23-24

1.5%

1.9%

1.5%

1.9%

24-25

1.6%

2.0%

1.6%

2.0%

25-26

1.7%

2.0%

1.6%*

2.1%

Total

4.8%

5.9%

4.7%

6.0%


*The SC lowered their COLA proposal from May 18 for the 25-26 school year by one tenth of one percent, and instead proposed to move the step increase back from December 1 to November 1. Unit C

School Year

May 18, all steps except top step

May 18, top step

June 1, all steps except top step

June 1, top step

23-24

1.5%

1.9%

1.6%

1.9%

24-25

1.6%

2.0%

1.7%

2.0%

25-26

1.7%

2.0%

1.8%

2.0%

Total

4.8%

5.9%

5.1%

5.9%

Maybe–if you squint really hard–you might see that they have increased the COLA…by three tenths of one percent over three years–but only for some, but not all employees! That’s it. They proposed this in all apparent seriousness. They even went so far as to write their “package” proposal up as five Memorandum of Agreement–the way you would write up a final agreement for ratification–and handed it over to us, as we said, take it or leave it. But seriously, this “new phase of negotiations” is not an attempt to move the negotiations along–it’s an unstated, but quite obvious, power play. The message was: “We have given you all we will give you. Your move.” So here is their “package” proposal to us, in full: (1) They have increased their COLA offer by one tenth of one percent over three years. In return, they ask us to: (2) WITHDRAW our proposals for:

  • real cost of living adjustments to our salaries;

  • an increase in parental leave from 40 to 60 paid days, with more days paid without having to use sick days;

  • adequate substitute coverage;

  • enhanced mental health supports for students;

  • increased elementary planning time;

  • increased and equitable longevity payments;

  • a living wage for educational support professionals;

  • adequate IT support.

(3) WORK MORE. They want us to give them the contractual right to make changes to our work day and work year with NO FURTHER REQUIREMENT to bargain these changes. Changes such as:

  • adding three “professional” days to the work year, by beginning the school year earlier and ending it more or less at the same time in June;

  • at the ELEMENTARY LEVEL, increasing the time spent on instruction and decreasing prep time by eliminating Wednesday early release days and scheduling staff meetings after school;

  • at the middle school level, requiring teachers to teach additional sections and perform additional duties, and pushing all meetings to after school;

  • at the high school level, eliminating class size limits, assigning a teaching or other responsibility six out of seven blocks in the schedule, holding meetings entirely outside the school day (no shortened Tuesdays) and giving administrators complete discretion over WIN blocks.

(4) Pay HIGHER OUT OF POCKET MEDICAL COSTS and NEW FEES:

  • On top of already sky-high increases to the cost of health insurance premiums, they want to shift more of these rising costs onto members by increasing out-of-pocket expenses:

    • Deductibles from $250/$500 to $400/$800

    • Out of pocket maximums from $1000/$2000 to $2,000/$4,000

    • Urgent care copays from $10 to $20

    • Retail (“minute clinic”) copays from $5 to $20

    • Prescription copays from $20 to $25 for tier 1, $35 to $40 for tier 2, $55 to $60 for tier 3.

  • They propose to charge employees who enroll their children in NPS a “materials” fee of 10% of the DESE “per pupil” costs – currently this would be $2,300 PER CHILD EACH YEAR AND…

  • They propose to kick these children out of the Newton Public schools (or never admit them) if they require special ed services.

***********


This is not a serious proposal. But let’s take it seriously enough to imagine the impact it would have on a representative member. Here is how a Unit C Member, working as an elementary Special Ed Assistant on step 4 of the salary scale, with a current salary, as of March 1, 2023, of $30,182.41, enrolled in a Harvard Pilgrim family plan for health insurance, who has two children who attend Newton as out-of-district students, would fare under the district’s proposal:

  • On September 1, 2023, she gets a step increase and a COLA increase of 1.6%.

    • Salary: $31,453.80 (an increase of $1,274.39).

  • Has her health insurance premiums increase by $934 over the premium cost this year.

  • Is charged a per pupil fee of $2,300 per child to continue in the NPS–$4,600

  • And thus, in the 2023-2024 school year, realizes a net loss in earnings of $4,259.61

  • Moreover, if either or both children require special education services, they could be kicked out of the Newton Public Schools.

  • On September 2024, she gets another step increase and 1.7% COLA

  • but has health insurance premiums increase again;

  • and has per pupil fees increase;

  • and potentially pays up to $4,000 during the year for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Of course, one could argue with the school committee that this will make it exceedingly difficult for the Newton Public School’s to attract and retain Unit C members. One would wonder why anyone would want to take such a job anymore. Even though true, that reasoning will gain exactly zero traction with them. They don’t care. So let’s shift the conversation. Newton thinks of itself as a champion of equity, diversity and inclusion. Unit C employees are by far the most racially and ethnically diverse employee group in the Newton Public Schools. Their proposal doesn’t just make it harder for Newton to fill positions in Unit C. Towards those Unit C paraprofessionals who currently work in Newton, it is an act of callous indifference and disrespect for the dedicated support they provide to Newton’s children. Their proposal expresses their willingness to entrench exploitation as the accepted means for providing educational support services for Newton’s students. Yes, for someone in Unit A or Unit B, and for some positions in Unit E, the situation may not be so dire as the example we just presented. But we have all lost real, inflation adjusted, wages over the past few years, and we are all struggling to make end meet on what we currently earn. And the fees changes they are proposing will hurt most of us, but especially our most vulnerable members . Moreover, we are all tapped out and have little more to give.

**********


So here we are, nearing the end of our contract year. Our current contract is expiring, yet the changes the school committee is proposing are so bad that, were we to accept their proposal, going into next year, we would be worse off than we are now. Entering a new phase in negotiations. I’ll say. When you are told by anyone in central administration, any member of the school committee, or the mayor, how much you are appreciated, remember: They appreciate you so much that they want to pay you less, and they want you to work more. After hearing the School Committee’s “packaged proposal,” your bargaining team caucused, then returned to the bargaining room. We told them:

  • We did not consider theirs a serious proposal. It does nothing to advance negotiations. At best it is a gross miscalculation, tone deaf to how we would react; at worst (and more likely) it is a clumsy power move. (How is this a power move? Likely their attorney, Liz Valerio, has advised the school committee that if they can force negotiations into an “impasse,” claiming no further progress is possible, they can then appeal to the Department of Labor Relations to force upon the NTA the school committee’s “last best offer.” No school committee in Massachusetts has ever successfully pulled off this maneuver, but no matter. The school committee openly violated the contractual requirement to provide an aide in every kindergarten classroom, claiming the decision to do so is exempt because it is about the “level of services” they provide. No school committee in Massachusetts has ever successfully justified violating an agreed upon contractual provision using this argument either. This is a school committee that has set out upon a very anti-union course. They are not just negotiating with us; they are working with their attorney to set new anti-labor precedent statewide. We should not be surprised at anything they do.)

  • To say “this is all we can afford” is not realistic. If the city cannot afford the schools they would like to offer, then they must either accept the reduced educational program they offer students, or fight with Mayor Fuller for the funds they need. The school committee cannot and should not expect that the educators of Newton will subsidize the schools.

  • It is duplicitous to blame their financial constraints for all they are proposing. They would like to advance initiatives that they will not even name or specify–they will only say that they want more “flexibility”–and they want to advance these initiatives on our backs.


***********

Finally, from the perspective of someone new to Negotiations (Elizabeth): This week was a shock. I always felt that the School Committee had a respect for teachers and what we do every day for our students, as they say all the time, even when we disagreed on perspectives about what would be best for the schools. There is a part of me that still wants to believe that. Last week I was just...gobsmacked by the patriarchal, disrespectful attempt to squeeze more - for less - out of our dedicated membership. Demoralizing is the best word I can think of. And from the perspective of someone who is now negotiating his fourth contract with the Newton School Committee (Mike): I have sat across the table from many negotiating teams, on many occasions. I have never experienced a bargaining session so disconcerting–and I have been to literally hundreds. And what all my experience has taught me, and what was on abundant display on Thursday–epitomized more clearly than I have ever seen–, is that, in Newton, negotiations are never about reasonable people sitting and working together to get to 'yes'. Negotiations here are about power–who wins. “Maybe,” I sometimes think, “this time it will be different. This time we will be able to have reasonable conversations with the school committee members, with the central administrators.” But, in the end, negotiations here are ALWAYS come down to the campaign, to our ability to unite in solidarity, stand up, protest, build community support, fight back, fight to win. And each time I have negotiated, it has always been this membership’s solidarity, and our union power, that has convinced the school committee to sit at the table, be reasonable and negotiate in good faith. You do that. Your NTA Negotiations Team needs you to it again. And I know you will.


Contract Action

Complete our contract action survey. (577 people have completed it to date. We have 2,000 members. Please complete the survey.) Join our end of the year June 15 RALLY on the lawn of City Hall. All hands on deck--this is a final action of the year. Sign up to let us know you will be attending. We are now in our third week of modified work to rule! To see pictures of walk-ins and walk-arounds from across the district, click here. As we expected, this action will unfold differently in different buildings--different days, different times, different styles. Please: no drop offs in participation! Line the Halls for our June 12 bargaining session. Click here to Line the Halls. If you live in Newton, host a Support Newton Educators lawn sign. Be an MTA Summer Organizer. Work in Newton; build our campaign; get paid! Sign up here. Volunteer for the NTA summer community outreach campaign. Sign up here. Finally, encourage supportive parents to attend the Parent Educator Collaborative community meeting on June 7. The meeting will take place at 8pm on Zoom. It is very important for NPS parents to understand how students will be impacted by the outcome of these negotiations. Parents, please join us to learn more and to find out how you can support Newton educators in their efforts to improve learning conditions for Newton children. Register HERE.



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