Teachers reject latest contract offer
Pay increase would have included retro payment
Barring a dramatic shift in positions, Warwick teachers will enter a third year without a contract when school doors open on Sept. 5.
It’s not that the parties have refused to meet, but depending on who you talk with, either the union is holding out for retroactive pay increases of 3 percent for each of the years they were without a contract in addition to 3 percent raises for the next three years for a projected increase of 15.9 percent over five years, or the committee is wiping clean contract language established over decades that would impair students and the teaching process.
Last Wednesday, as the parties convened for the first session since the union rejected a mediated best offer, there was optimism on the part of the school administration that finally there would be an agreement. Fueling such expectation were the “leanings” of the interest arbitrator – a preliminary to findings that could be released next month – that adds icing to the committee’s wage offer.
According to Superintendent Philip Thornton, interest arbitrator Michael Ryan is “leaning” toward granting the union a 2 percent retroactive pay raise for the last year. This would give top step teachers, who make up 86 percent of 896 Warwick teachers, an 11.5 percent pay increase over five years and a salary of $86,386 by Sept. 1, 2019.
School arbitration awards are non-binding on financial issues, but Thornton said Friday the committee is willing to consider the 2 percent retroactive payment, adding that the full arbitration “leanings” don’t give either party everything they want.
“I think it is fair and generous,” he said.
Thornton said the committee position that it is prepared to go along with the arbitrator’s leanings was clearly stated during Wednesday’s mediation and rejected by the union.
On Thursday both sides issued press releases on their take of the events, neither mentioning that, in effect, the committee had opened the door to a retroactive raise that would have the compound effect of making Warwick teachers among the top paid teachers in the state.
Thornton said the committee’s team “made a last-best offer beyond the neutral leanings that provides for 12 percent salary increases over the length of the contract in exchange for the addition of educationally sound contract language.”
He goes on to say, “The School Committee has not withdrawn this offer and remains ready, willing and able to continue to meet with the teacher’s union leadership to discuss minor revisions so that an agreement can be reached prior to the start of the school year. The conversation, however, needs to be a productive and substantive conversation with participation on the part of the WTU leadership. Regrettably, until this happens, we feel the mediation process has run its course and we look forward to the receipt of the interest arbitration ruling due out in the very near future.”
Union president Darlene Netcoh, in a release issued after that from Thornton, said the committee demonstrated its unwillingness to negotiate a successor contract.
“Although the Warwick Teachers’ Union [WTU] was willing to negotiate, the WSC 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.”
She goes on to say the committee has agreed to accept the arbitrator’s leanings that “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.”
Netcoh says the union presented a counteroffer, which was rejected. Netcoh did not specify the offer, but Thornton said it included two years of 3 percent retro raises followed by three years of 3 percent.
The union further claimed that the figures related to retroactive raises presented by the school committee in their press release were not the actual figures that were presented in their meeting, and that the major hangup in delaying a new contract continues to be related to the contractual language involving class size and the policies on assigning special education teachers.
"Warwick teachers will continue to advocate for learning conditions for our students, and the WTU looks forward to returning to negotiations/mediation," the union press release reads.
According to data compiled by the school administration, the committee’s latest offer would put Warwick teachers fourth in the state in terms of pay. Barrington top step teachers are at the top with $85,265, 20 percent health co-pay and 186 days followed by Westerly at $83,757, 20 percent co-pay and 190 days. Next is Exeter/West Greenwich at $81,969 with 18 percent co-pay and 181 days.
Under the committee’s last offer, top step Warwick teachers would be at $81,427 with 20 percent co-pay and 181 days as of this Dec. 1.