Tuesday October 16, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- After ratifying a string of one-year contracts -- following sometimes contentious negotiations -- city teachers and the Pittsfield School Committee have reached a tentative three-year agreement.

In a joint statement released Monday afternoon, the United Educators of Pittsfield and the committee indicated that final approval could come next week.

Details of the proposed deal -- other than the length of the contract -- were not released, pending approval by the 590-member UEP and the seven-member school board. Both sides said ratification by the teachers and School Committee is likely by Oct. 24.

The proposed agreement would end a series of four, one-year deals dating back to the 2008-09 school year. The string of shorter contracts was primarily due to the city’s volatile budget situation and the inability of both parties to iron out their differences over non-money issues.

Since March, union and committee negotiators have held nearly 20 bargaining sessions with the intent of hammering out a proposed three-year contract.

"I’m ecstatic about the tentative agreement. It took a lot of hard work," said School Committee Chairman Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga.

UEP President Gail Yates said details of the proposed contract will be made public after Oct. 24 if the contract is approved by both sides.

In their statement, union leaders and the committee credited a new negotiating strategy -- called interest-based bargaining -- in helping negotiators reach the accord.

Employed at the start of the current contract talks, interest-based, or collaborative bargaining, begins with a philosophical approach to reaching a new contract.

The UEP and School Com mittee have previously relied on the traditional collective bargaining process. That method involves union and management having pre-determined positions on issues such as wages and health benefits.

The agreement for the 2008-09 school year resulted in a modest 1.5 percent across-the- board salary increase, followed by a contract that kept base pay in check for 2009-10. The 2010-11 contract resulted in a 1 percent pay hike that totaled $335,000 for union members.

City teachers continue to work under the contract that expired Aug. 24. The one-year deal was devoid of across-the-board salary increase, but did include 3 percent pay hikes for those at the top of the pay scale.

While collective bargaining resulted in the four, one-year contracts, the settlements for the school years of 2009-10 and 2010-11 came after months of contentious talks. In both cases, a state mediator was called in to resolve the labor dispute and teachers enacted a process known as "work to rule" in order to spur a tentative agreement.

Under work to rule, union members strictly follow the terms of the current contract, which may mean not providing extra help to students or work on school activities beyond what is contractually required.

To reach Dick Lindsay:
rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com,
or (413) 496-6233.