WARWICK, RI — A new contract between the Warwick Teachers Union and Warwick School Department, overdue since 2015, remains in the aspirational realm after the union rejected the district’s latest offer Aug. 23.
What that offer entails is not clear, since the negotiations are typically conducted behind closed doors and the WTU and School Department offer conflicting accounts of events.
Darlene Netcoh, president of the Warwick Teachers Union, said the Warwick School Committee, the union, Mayor Scott Avedisian and mediator attorney Vincent Ragosta met to reach a collective bargaining agreement.
“Although the Warwick Teachers’ Union (WTU) was willing to negotiate, the Warwick School Committee gave us a ‘take it or leave it offer’ in which they imposed a new demand that we drop all impending grievances, some of which affect individual teachers and some that address violations of longstanding language in the CBA. If we were to acquiesce to such a demand, then we would not be able to challenge the WSC’s violations of the CBA and have a neutral arbitrator hear and decide each case.”
Netcoh said the School Committee also decided to accept the interest arbitrator’s ‘leanings,’ written in an internal document before the three-member interest arbitration panel and not to be shared or discussed outside of the panel. She said the ‘leanings’ do not constitute a final decision, which will come at the conclusion of the process after at least the next scheduled meeting of the panel.
“Yesterday the WTU presented a counter offer to the WSC’s ‘take it or leave it offer’ and was willing to stay and negotiate, but they rejected it and walked out. Despite the behavior of the WSC, the WTU is still willing to meet with them and the mediators and properly conclude negotiations,” Netcoh said.
“Regarding finances, the WSC is promulgating a proposed 12% raise. However, they have miscalculated the percentages that they have offered and have not taken into consideration the two years of no raises. Over the past two years, the WTU has made concessions that the WSC requested. However, there are subject matters that still need finalization, such as class size and the assignment of special education teachers to classrooms, which directly affect the education of students. Warwick teachers will continue to advocate for learning conditions for our students, and the WTU looks forward to returning to negotiations/mediation.”
Superintendent Phil Thornton replied to a request for a statement on their offer and the WTU’s rejection with a document labeled “Warwick School Committee Union Contract Negotiations Fact Sheet.” Warwick Post asked Netcoh to respond to each of the document’s points:
TWO INDEPENDENT PROCESSES
SCHOOL COMMITTEE: The School Committee and union leadership agreed to two outside independent “judges” to resolve the contract standstill: Arbitration and Mediation. Both provided decisions or recommendations to resolve the contract negotiations in a reasonable and fair manner regarding teacher contract language and salaries.
● The Warwick School Committee agreed to both. ● The union leadership rejected both.
NETCOH: Neither mediation nor arbitration has provided a “decision.”
Mediation produced a checklist of non-binding advisory opinions. The mediators themselves stated in a letter, “We fully realize that some further negotiation will take place on finances and perhaps some other subject matters,” after they had made their choices of what both sides called their “last best offers.” The WTU is still waiting for that further negotiation.
The neutral arbitrator issued his “leanings.” The final decision will come after the neutral arbitrator meets with the partial arbitrators who represent each side. Each side’s partial arbitrator will have the opportunity to argue his case, and the final decision will be more substantive than the four-page outline of leanings that currently exist.
The WTU rejected both the list and the leanings because neither were decisions, and the WTU agrees with the mediators that further negotiations are necessary.
SCHOOL COMMITTEE: In the arbitration decision, teachers would receive a 2-percent retroactive pay increase (back pay), and another 3-percent raise. This would amount to a 5-percent pay raise in the 2017-18 year. Under this proposal, Warwick teachers would be the 4th highest paid in RI.
● In each of the next two years, teachers would receive back-to-back 3-percent pay raises. ● The average Warwick teacher would earn $86,000 in year three of the contract. ● There are no changes in in the teachers’ healthcare contributions. ● The current sick leave provision would remain in the contract allowing for 90 sick days per school year for teachers.
NETCOH: Notice how the school committee does note the implementation dates of these alleged raises. The raises most certainly do not amount to a 5-percent increase in 2017-2018. The WSC needs to be honest if it is going to release its numbers and needs to properly calculate percentages.
SCHOOL COMMITTEE: The School Committee and the union agreed to a last best offer process. The mediators involved, Vincent Ragosta and Mayor Avedisian, rendered a decision regarding the last best offers.
● The union’s last offer included a 3-percent pay raise per year for five years – a total raise of 15.9 percent – WTU leadership, to date, has not offered any other proposals that would require continued negotiations. ● The union says there are issues with other contract language, but have not answered multiple requests to identify these issues within the contract or negotiate them. ● The School Committee has not increased the healthcare co-share in any proposal, even though the School Department has experienced increases since the contract expired.
NETCOH: The WTU and the WSC agreed to a “non-binding recommendation” process. WSC Chairwoman Beth Furtado and WTU President Darlene Netcoh signed an agreement to memorialize that the recommendations were non-binding. There was no “decision.”
The school committee is misrepresenting the union’s last offer. The total raise does not equal 15.9 percent. The union has indeed offered proposals. The union has repeatedly identified the issues with contract language.