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Saturday, October 13, 2012

They said, they said"

NEA-RI President Larry Purtill (Photo courtesy of Pat Crowley)

Prompting an exercise of “they said, they said,” the Chariho School Committee released a public statement Tuesday night, taking issue with the conduct of Chariho teachers concerning the parties’ ongoing contract dispute.

The Committee also released the full text of the Labor Board complaint the teachers filed against it and the ensuing written arguments, causing National Education Association (NEA) Chariho President Bob Mayne to speak out with his own accusation.

“I’m rather disappointed with the School Committee’s attempt to distract everyone from the issues they created. Their negotiations statement reads that the ‘Chariho Regional School District Committee will not engage in personal attacks, intimidation tactics, mockery, and the distribution of misinformation,’ as if accusing teachers of doing so,” Mayne stated.

“By withholding the wages related to longevity and advanced degrees they are attempting to intimidate the educators negotiating on behalf of all NEA Chariho members into settling for this reduced level of compensation. This intensely adversarial relationship was created by the Committee’s decision to unilaterally and illegally change the compensation for Chariho’s educators. I am concerned that the collaborative working environment that existed between the leadership and educators of Chariho before this year will never recover.”

The Labor Board complaint arose from the Committee’s unilateral elimination of all longevity and advanced degree pay for teachers – mandatory as part of the negotiated agreement – as well as any step increases – guaranteed in state statute. In addition to noting the illegality of those actions, the complaint states that “the School Committee’s unilateral action in reducing teacher compensation has the effect of Interfering with the function of the Union by attempting to force concessions during negotiations for a successor agreement…”

The Committee’s rebuttal stated that the fact that the union walked out of a bargaining session August 20 and cancelled a subsequent session “opened the door” for it to impose the reduced pay schedules. NEA Chariho’s reply indicated that the union felt at impasse and made known its intent to call for mediation, as allowed by law.

A growing number of parents, former students, and community members have spoken out in favor of restoring teacher pay and settling the contract, to avoid further erosion of teacher-School Committee relations. No progress was reported from mediation session last night.

Karen C. Jenkins is the Communications Director for the National Education Association RI.