Reaching a teacher contract
This year is the 25th anniversary of the teachers strike that closed schools and saw 18 teachers arrested and sent to the Adult Correctional Institution. In many ways the rancor and distrust caused by that incident still simmers today. Some teachers say they haven’t stopped protesting in all those years.
Clearly, that’s got to change if Warwick schools are to regain the luster and reputation they once had. More importantly, trust is essential for teachers and administrators to work cooperatively to provide our children with the education they need to face the challenges of today and tomorrow.
Warwick teacher contracts have a history of being painful and protracted. Parties on both sides have dug in to the detriment of students who have become familiar with the term “work-to-rule” when they fail to see teachers at open houses and after school hour events. Students aren’t the only losers. Teachers are torn between solidarity and what they want for students. Even those with no children in schools feel the effects as the reputation of the system sides along with property values and the interest of young families to locate here.
This is a precarious situation with the risk that when the parties finally have a contract not all that much will change. The fear is an agreement will become a hiatus between another round of contract battles that perpetuate this downward cycle.
To succinctly summarize the positions with the danger of making them sound simple, the committee and the administration are bent on gaining the flexibility they say is needed to run the system while the union looks at that effort of stripping them of the hard fought benefits they have won for themselves and students over decades of contracts. Oddly, the stated goals of both parties to help the students are the same.
What is different this time around is the strategy. The administration has mounted a legal battle challenging a State Labor Relations Board finding – and winning – that effectively tossed out the long-argued premise that the terms of the prior contract were enforceable until a new agreement is reached. The administration also pushed for interest arbitration that has taken more than a year to complete and painstakingly looks at contractual issues raised by both sides. So far there have been 17 mediation sessions.
These are not kumbaya encounters.
Mayor Scott Avedisian looked to restart mediation by joining the process in January. He has attended all five sessions since the start of the year. Mediation resumes on May 23 and he has asked for additional sessions on May 30 and June 2. We are hopeful his intervention will bring movement.
Mediation is a path to an agreement if the parties recognize this is a battle that’s gone on for too long and one in which neither side can come out a clear winner. If that doesn’t happen an agreement will just be another hiatus before the discord starts all over again.
That’s not the kind of agreement teachers, the administration and Warwick students can afford.