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City negotiators cancel meetings with Manchester teachers' union

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 22. 2018 10:28PM
City Hall in Manchester is seen here, framed by buildings on Hanover Street. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

MANCHESTER — The chairman of the Manchester school board’s negotiations committee has sent an email to officials with the Manchester Education Association, accusing the teachers union of not bargaining in good faith on a new contract.

In the email — sent Wednesday to Manchester Education Association (MEA) negotiations spokesman Michelle Couture and Chairman Cheryl Kearney — school board Special Committee on Negotiations chairman and at-large board member Rich Girard says his committee is canceling meetings with the MEA scheduled for Aug. 30 and September 8.

“Candidly, we’re not sure how to negotiate with an organization that has refused the offer of a facilitator, declared impasse, asked to restart negotiations, changed nothing it has proposed and refuses to have discussions on any topic other than those it dictates, all the while claiming it wants to quickly come to an agreement,” writes Girard in the email. “We do not see this as bargaining in good faith.”

“This is a continuation of mischaracterizations, we are not negotiating in bad faith,” said MEA President Sue Hannan. “Since they are canceling meetings now with no reason, that is bad faith bargaining.”

Negotiations betweeen the district and the MEA resumed July 26 following an eight-week hiatus, after union leadership declared an impasse on June 4 citing an inability to find “common ground.” The most recent agreement with the more than 1,100 members of the MEA expired on June 30.

Four negotiation sessions between the two sides were scheduled in late July and August.

Girard said the district’s negotiations team withdrew all original proposals when the new discussions began.

“In response, not only did the association explicitly reject our request to do the same, it urged us to reconsider its financially impossible $28 million pay raise request,” writes Girard in his email.

Girard said members of his negotiating team worked on salary and sick time proposals, and presented a comprehensive “Site of Service” health insurance proposal, which lowered costs for both the district and its teachers without coverage reductions or increases in deductibles or premium sharing, to union negotiators on August 7. Also at that meeting, Girard said, school negotiators cautioned against the MEA’s suggestion that future meetings be canceled if salary or sick time proposals weren’t ready.

“Upon confirming that we were unable to complete either our salary or sick time proposals before (Tuesday’s) meeting, the MEA indicated it didn’t want to meet,” wrote Girard in his email to union leaders. “I suggested that we discuss our calendar proposal, which had not been withdrawn. The MEA refused and canceled the meeting saying ‘until there is a salary proposal to discuss, the team does not want to meet.’”

Hannan said claims the union is not bargaining in good faith are “mischaracterizations.”

“This is really from left field, as the board committee knew that we did not want to meet if there was no salary proposal much ahead of time,” said Hannan.

“The salary proposal Mr. Girard continues to beat into the ground is not the current proposal. That was the first proposal, which we knew was too much, but was the example of the salary range in which our educators should be paid. The board has promised the MEA that salary proposals were close to ready at quite a few meetings, but nothing has come through. We have been willing to meet about working conditions, district needs and student instructional needs.”

“We disagree that they’ve been willing to discuss working conditions or items other than salary and benefits,” said Girard. “They declared impasse when we sent them our calendar proposal and canceled (Tuesday’s) meeting because it wasn’t going to discuss a salary proposal. Whether they see it as a lower priority or not, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t have been discussed given all that needs to be resolved.”

“It is our hope that the MEA will recognize that negotiations are supposed to be a two-way street and reconsider these ‘our way or the highway’ decisions,” said Girard.

“I’m grateful for the time and effort exhibited by the Board of School Committee negotiations team to come to an agreement that meets the needs of our educators, students and taxpayers,” said Mayor Joyce Craig in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for our educators, and as we start a new school year on Wednesday, Sept. 5, it’s my hope we can negotiate in good faith and find common ground.”

Hannan said when school opens, MEA members are being asked to work “to the letter of the contract,” commonly known as a ‘work to rule’ action — teachers arrive at school at the contractual time and leave at the contractual time, doing no more than the minimum required by the rules of their contract.

“The intent is to follow the prescribed times of the contract, and to not utilize anything educators have brought personally to their classrooms,” said Hannan. “This is difficult as some educators literally have nothing given to them from the district in terms of teaching materials. They might have furniture but that is it. We did request that educators not go in before the first day, but where we were back to the table, we thought it best to remove that part of the request. We did that in good faith.”

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