June 17, 2009

Perpetual Contracts

Marc Comtois

RI Sen. Charles Levesque (D-Bristol/Portsmouth) and Rep. Peter Palumbo (D-Cranston) have introduced legislation that would keep expired teachers’ contracts in place until they are replaced by new contracts. The Senate passed the measure and it is now waiting in the House (see the proposal here) for consideration. Why?

Levesque said the intent is to help clarify the issue so a community’s resources, financial and otherwise, aren’t wasted.

“I believe that the proposal codifies the current understanding of the law,” he said. “I do think it is wise to do, so that the community will move on to resolving the issue, and not [spend] hundreds of thousands of dollars on finding out that a court will rule that existing contracts do continue. Even if they are successful in destroying that principle, what would the School Committee have gained?”

Simple question: so why would any teacher union--or anyone--ever see the need to renegotiate? The yearly COLA-like increases (2-3%/year) would be locked in. The currently generous benefits would be locked in. Heck, who wouldn't want that deal? As explained by the Rhode Island Statewide Coalition
“This obviously removes any incentive for unions to negotiate, and comes close to transferring the largest element of town budgets from town councils to the unions....Unions could run forever with their current contracts without town governments having any ability to modify the terms, other than by declaring bankruptcy.

“This law would set a precedent for other government unions and thereby lock town and state budgets into permanent cost-of-living increases, minimal health-care co-pays, and the other lopsided union benefits that could no longer be negotiated because the existing contracts would remain in force forever, regardless of their nominal end dates.”

I can't blame the unions for trying to lock in in perpetuity. Heck, that's their purpose: to get the best deal for their membership. And it's supposed to be the job of our politicians to take into account the best interests of ALL of their constituents. But we know how that works around here.

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I think if this passes, then my strategy, if I was on a School Committee would be to put a poison pill in the new contract. Give bigger colas for the first two years and then zero in year three. Cheap health insurance in the first two years and make it all up in year three. Step increases for the first two years, none in year 3.

Then if my union doesn't want to negotiate when the contract runs out, that's fine by me. Heck, maybe *I* wouldn't want to negotiate if that is the parameters.

Posted by: Patrick at June 17, 2009 1:02 PM

Levesque is a fool. Does he realize or care what he is doing to the taxpayers? This bill, if it becomes law, will certainly bankrupt cities and towns or put their taxes in double digits. There is no reason to negotiate when you have the best contract you will ever have, especially in East Providence with no health insurance co-pay. Cheap health insurance would be good idea, but many unions have a clause Blue Cross only. It doesn't matter if you put a poison pill in the contract when the unions have no intention on signing that contract when they have already raided what is left in the taxpayers bank accounts.

Posted by: kathy at June 17, 2009 1:10 PM

If they don't want to negotiate, then don't hire them back. If you don't have a contract, then you should be able to go hire all new teachers, or the same old ones, but want to abandon their union. If Palumbo and Levesque are going to be genuine, then there should be a provision in the bill that it only applies to contracts signed *after* this law would go into effect.

Posted by: Patrick at June 17, 2009 2:01 PM

Right wingers in favor of frivolous lawsuits.....gotta love it.

Posted by: Pat Crowley at June 17, 2009 4:54 PM

Levesque simply isn't a good person, and an even worse legislator. I wonder if he's ever had a real job. It would be hard for me to have less respect for someone. Hopefully, this term will be his last.

There is nothing in the proposed law, if passed, which would apply to current situation in East Providence. It has no retroactivity language, plus ex post facto laws generally are illegal. In addition, I've been assured it would be fought in court anyway. What we are worried about is the effect that this dangerous legislation would have on other communities, especially those tetering on the edge of insolvency. We are going to hold politicians accountable for their votes, should the legislation ever make it through committee.

If we felt the need to fire everyone, I suspect we would, especially in East Providence. I'm not sure of the procedure to decertify a union. However, I presume it is not easy, otherwise it would have been done long ago. There are many good teachers in the system; probably more good than bad. The unions seeming reason to exist is to protect bad teachers from consequences for doing a bad job. There's still a lot of deadweight in the system, and at least at the moment, the seniority system still is being applied to layoffs -- last hired, first fired. It's terrible for children. We don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water. Of course, since when has the quality of children's education ever been a consideration?

It's unfortunate that the union, more often than not, ends up on the side of perpetuating what should be easy to solve problems, in pursuit of their own narrow self interests, instead of working towards solving them for the greater good. I've yet to hear of any real cost savings proposal from them to address the EP school department's cumulative $9 million deficit. Some of them still appear to be under the impression that the school committee has gold bars stashed in the basement of city hall. The last proposal for "cost savings" which they proposed, not only wouldn't save us the money we need, but would actually cost us more money, money we simply don't have. So far, the city has been running more or less normally. However, thay may not continue for all that much longer. E.P.'s fiscal year ends October 31st.

Posted by: Will at June 17, 2009 5:40 PM

I think from now on, Crowley should just be "the seagull", as he just swoops in, sh*ts all over everything and flies away, not to be seen until next poop time.

No idea what frivolous lawsuits he's talking about. The guy does more drive-bys than a Friday night in Compton (not "Little").

Posted by: Patrick at June 17, 2009 7:31 PM

"There is nothing in the proposed law, if passed, which would apply to current situation in East Providence."

Let's be clear that this bill was filed not to correct the specific actions of East Providence officials but in reaction to their actions so as to prevent this from happening in other municipalities - "this" being elected officials who budget in a responsible manner within the means of their taxpayers.

Ironically, if this bill became law (I agree with those who think this is far from a certainty), the taxpayers of East Providence may make out better than anyone else. The E.P. teachers' union would have even more of an incentive to drive a hard bargain because it would become their new, indefinite contract. This, then, would make the execution of a new contract all the more unlikely as East Providence, in turn, would be in even less of a position to meet the union's terms for a new contract.

Posted by: Monique at June 17, 2009 9:21 PM
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