Thursday October 25, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- City teachers and the Pittsfield School Committee have finalized a new three-year contract -- one that includes pay raises, ending a string of one-year agreements following sometimes contentious negotiations.

By a vote of 175-64, United Teachers of Pittsfield on Wednesday afternoon ratified the tentative deal reached two weeks ago, according to UEP President Gail Yates. Later in the evening, the seven-member committee approved the contract 6-1; Terry KInnas was opposed.

The contract is retroactive to Aug. 25 and runs through Aug. 24, 2015. Teachers had been working under the previous agreement, which expired on Aug. 24.

"The long-term contract shows what people can do in a true collaborative spirit," Yates said after the union vote.

Following the School Committee meeting, Chairman Alfred E. "Alf" Barbalunga said teachers will receive pay hikes in each year of the three-year accord, but offered no specifics.

The school board and the 560-member teachers union plan to issue a joint statement explaining the details of the contract within the next few days.

The agreement ends 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 more than 20 bargaining sessions with the intent of hammering out a three-year contract.


Advertisement

"This negotiated settlement reflects the great respect and great relationship between both parties," said Daniel C. Elias, who chairs the School Committee's negotiating team.

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

"We have forged a partnership with the teachers on this [contract]," Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said during the School Committee meeting. The mayor is a voting member of the school board.

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.

The one-year deal was devoid of across-the-board salary increase, but it 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.