June 1, 2005

So What Else is New? Teachers' Union Continues Non-Productive Behaviors in East Greenwich Labor Talks

A ProJo article updates everyone on the East Greenwich teachers' union talks:

...Negotiations began more than a year ago on a contract to replace the one that expired Aug. 31. A major point of contention appears to be the committee's demand that the teachers share in the cost of their health insurance.

By all accounts, the last negotiating session -- which was held on Thursday evening and did not include a mediator -- went poorly.

According to School Committee member Steven Gregson, who heads the board's three-member bargaining team, the team walked out at about 9:30 p.m. -- the talks began at 6 -- after union negotiators spent an hour and a half in a separate room mulling the committee's latest proposal.

"It was obviously a situation where it appears the teachers were just trying to drag it out," Gregson said yesterday. He also said that the union on Thursday declined to arrange a date for negotiations to continue.

Leidecker, who was at Thursday's session, said the union team was "in the midst of fashioning a counter proposal" when the School Committee members left.

"You shouldn't be picking up and walking out," he said.

Leidecker said that it is up to Kogan to set a new date for negotiations to resume.

Meanwhile, the School Committee yesterday issued a statement criticizing NEARI represenative Jane Argentieri for telling a local newspaper that half of East Greenwich's residents have annual incomes of $500,000 or more.

"This is clearly wrong ... East Greenwich has a diverse population or, more appropriately, not everyone is rich," the committee said.

"The issue of any resident's income should not be determinative of or act as a guideline to a teacher's salary," it said.

Leidecker, who is filling in for Argentieri while she is away from the office, declined yesterday to comment on the School Committee's statement.

Once again, the East Greenwich School Committee is putting proposals on the table and the NEA teachers' union stalls. Think about it: The School Committee's negotiating proposals have been presented numerous times in the past to the NEA. The proposals have been aired publicly in the community. There are simply no surprises coming from the School Committee.

However, with all of that public information, what is clear yet again is that the NEA did not come to the session prepared to make a serious proposal to the Committee. Which means that they want the School Committee to negotiate against themselves. Nice try, but the East Greenwich School Committee called the NEA's bluff by leaving the session after waiting 90 minutes for the first semblance of a response. Good for them.

Now consider these facts and ask yourself if the union has any incentive to propose reasonable contract terms:

1. The second half of the roughly $6,800 annual cash payment for not using healthcare insurance will be paid on June 10. Such semi-annual payments will continue to be made in the total amount of 50% of the annual premium cost - which goes up each year - as long as there is no settled contract.

2. The teachers have just finished a school year in which they paid a zero co-payment on their health insurance premium. They will continue to have a zero co-payment as long as there is no settled contract.

3. Teachers in job steps 1-9 each moved up a job step last Fall, receiving 7-9% salary increases. Teachers in job steps 1-9 next Fall will also move up a job step and receive additional 7-9% salary increases.

Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that the union will sit back, continue to collect sweet salary and benefit offerings under the old contract while hoping they can generate enough pressure in town via "work-to-rule" to force the School Committee to cave into their further demands - which amount to nothing less than the legalized extortion of East Greenwich taxpayers. Awarding additional salary to them via retroactive pay increases would be icing on their cake.

It has become clear as well that these union negotiations are nothing less than one big racket, structurally set up to encourage financial gain by the unions and not for the benefit of our children or excellence in education. That is why it is so important for the School Committee to proactively change the balance of power in the contract negotiations, with actions such as those suggested here.

By the way, after what she said publicly about the residents of East Greenwich, you have to wonder if Jane Argentieri will ever be seen again in East Greenwich contract negotiation talks. It is hard to build the political momentum necessary to shake down a community when your negotiating representative publicly insults the residents.

A majority of residents in East Greenwich have figured out what the NEA is up to and have sent a very clear signal in response: The NEA shares none of the residents' commitment to our children and our town - so take a hike and play your destructive games somewhere else.

The residents of our town appreciate how the School Committee is standing firm for fiscally responsible outcomes and doing right by our children. They also appreciate how the Town Council is supporting the School Committee's efforts.


Here is the press release issued by the School Committee after the negotiating session mentioned above:

At the request of the East Greenwich Teacher’s Union and their NEA representative, Jane Argentieri, the East Greenwich School Committee agreed to continue negotiations sessions to allow the East Greenwich Teacher’s Union and the NEA to respond to the East Greenwich School Committee’s last proposal. The session was continued to last Thursday, May 26, at which time the East Greenwich School Committee hoped the Union’s response to their generous offer would bring the contract dispute to a close. In fact, the East Greenwich Teacher’s Union President, Roger Ferland, reported in several newspapers that he believed the East Greenwich School Committee’s last offer to be close to resolving the contract dispute. The East Greenwich School Committee made an offer which responded to the concerns of the Union with respect to the lowest step teachers while also giving due consideration to all teachers within the East Greenwich system.

The East Greenwich School Committee’s optimism for resolution waned after reading Ms. Argentieri’s comment made in a recent newspaper article. These comments provided the school committee with unique insight into the the mind set of the East Greenwich Teacher’s Union’s chief negotiator. Mainly, these comments, both as to the East Greenwich residents’ median income and the parents’ ability to provide private tutors for their children, sets the tone for the course of the negotiations.

Simply stated, Ms. Argentieri claimed that fifty percent of East Greenwich residents have an income of $500,000 or more. This is clearly wrong. The issue of any resident’s income should not be determinative of or act as a guideline to a teacher’s salary. Additionally, when parents provide tutors for their children, it is at most times with sacrifice to another household need. Caring parents who provide for their children should not be the subject of negotiation. With this mind set, it is now apparent why the negotiations have been protracted.

East Greenwich has a diverse population or, more appropriately, not everyone is rich. East Greenwich residents are hard working and dedicated to education regardless of whether they have children in the public schools. Those elderly residents and retirees of today were the backbone of support for our public schools of yesterday. These residents should not be forced out of their homes by escalating property taxes.

Teachers are professional employees. They are paid a salary, not an hourly wage, to fulfill their duties as professional educators. Their professional workday does not end when student class time is over. Many of their professional duties are not strictly defined in the contract and many obligations must be met outside class time.

Reduction in state revenue, increased operational expenses (water, heat, electricity and Fire Code compliance), automatic step movement in the salary schedule, double digit percentage rate hikes for health benefits and rising health insurance premiums leads to budget tightening. Since roughly 81% of the district's budget is spent on employee compensation, it is impossible to achieve significant fiscal responsibility without impacting employee compensation in some manner.

Reduction in buy backs and a co-share of health care premiums are some of the most equitable ways to spread cost cutting across the greatest number of employees while avoiding deeper program cuts affecting the students. The school committee is committed to providing the highest quality of education for all of its students. We will continue to negotiate with the union in an attempt to resolve this contract dispute.

We thank the residents of East Greenwich for their overwhelming support of
our initiatives and attempts at controlling the cost of education while not affecting the quality of education for our students.

Once again, the School Committee is waiting for a mediator to be appointed by the Department of Labor at the NEA's request. This was a foregone conclusion, since at all times the NEA Teacher’s Union indicated they would not settle this contract without a mediator. This step is another attempt to take the focus off the issues facing school districts across the State of Rhode Island. The East Greenwich School Committee has offered, on many occasions, a responsible contract and will continue to negotiate along these same lines.


In a nutshell, here is what I think the negotiating position of the East Greenwich School Committee should be on some of the key financial terms of the contract.

In addition to financial issues, management rights are the other big teachers' union contract issue. "Work-to-rule" or "contract compliance" only can become an issue because of how management rights are defined in union contracts. The best reading on this subject is the recent report by The Education Partnership. It is must reading.

East Greenwich NEA teachers' union contract negotiations
More Background Information on the East Greenwich NEA Labor Dispute
The NEA's Disinformation Campaign
East Greenwich Salary & Benefits Data
More Bad Faith Behavior by the NEA
The Debate About Retroactive Pay
Would You Hurt Our Children Just To Win Better Contract Terms?
The Question Remains Open & Unanswered: Are We/They Doing Right By Our Children?
Will The East Greenwich Teachers' Union Stop Their Attempts to Legally Extort Residents?
You Have To Read This Posting To Believe It! The Delusional World of the NEA Teachers' Union

Other Rhode Island public education/union issues
ProJo editorial: Derailing the R.I. gravy train
ProJo editorial: RI public unions work to reduce your family's quality of life
ProJo editorial: Breaking the taxpayer: How R.I. teachers get 12% pay hikes
Selfish Focus of Teachers Unions: Everything But What Is Good For Our Kids
Tom Coyne - RI Schools: Big Bucks Have Not Brought Good Results
The NEA: There They Go, Again!
A Response: Why Teachers' Unions (Not Teachers!) Are Bad For Education
"A Girl From The Projects" Gets an Opportunity to Live the American Dream
Doing Right By Our Children in Public Education Requires Thinking Outside The Box
Debating Rhode Island Public Education Issues

Broader public education issues
The Deep Performance Problems with American Public Education
Freedom, Hard Work & Quality Education: Making The American Dream Possible For ALL Americans
Parents or Government/Unions: Who Should Control Our Children's Educational Decisions?