Wednesday October 17, 2012

After four years of difficult negotiations resulting in stop-gap, one-year contracts, the three-year agreement reached by the United Educators of Pittsfield and the Pittsfield School Committee should be applauded. The length provides security for teachers and stability for the school system, both of which benefit the city.

This assumes, of course, that the contract will ultimately be ratified by the 590-member UEP and the seven-member school board, which could happen next week. No details of the contract will be re vealed until it is ratified. If the teachers receive a modest pay increase they should consider themselves fortunate in the current economic climate. While the re cent one-year contracts may have been disappointing to teachers, the School Committee's tough line reflected economic realities, not a lack of respect for teachers.

The increasing economic stability of the city in recent years undoubtedly contributed to the less contentious negotiations, as did a new negotiating style cited by both the union and the committee called interest-based bargaining. This is a more flexible strategy than collective bargaining, in which the union and management enter with their positions established on wages and benefits. The effort to find a middle ground is made difficult by the respective parties' reluctance to give ground on those positions. Based on the evident success in Pittsfield, districts elsewhere in the Berkshires that have been plagued by divisive collective bargaining negotiations should consider altering their approach as well.

When teacher union contract negotiations stall, the too common result is a declaration of work to rule, in which teachers follow exclusively the terms of their contract and don't provide extra help to students or take part in school activities. If work to rule has ever accomplished anything positive in the Berkshires, it has been more than negated by the animosity it creates among teachers, administrators, students and parents. Any strategy that avoids work to rule is worth pursuing.