Northampton teachers announce work-to-rule over stalled contract talks

  • Members of the Northampton Association of School Employees and supporters rally for higher wages prior to a meeting of the School Committee, April 11, at JFK Middle School. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/15/2019 11:58:54 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Negotiations between the School Committee and the union representing teachers and staff reached an impasse on Tuesday after bargaining for new contracts since February.

In response, the Northampton Association of School Employees — the union that represents school employees including teachers, educational support professionals (ESPs), custodians and cafeteria workers — has announced that next week members will be “working to rule,” meaning they will complete only their contractual obligations.

“We’re not going to be working for free — we’re not going to be doing things outside of our contract,” said NASE negotiation team member Andrea Egitto.

At their most recent bargaining meeting on Tuesday, the two groups were not able to reach an agreement, and have agreed to request assistance from a mediator in their negotiations.

According to NASE president Sadie Cora, the School Committee did not make a counteroffer in response to the union’s most recent proposal.

Superintendent John Provost and Mayor David Narkewicz, who is chairman of the School Committee, said Wednesday they were unable to comment on the specifics of the School Committee’s offer.

Among other issues, Cora said that the committee is not offering high enough pay increases, and said Northampton teacher pay is well below average, according to the most recent state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education data.

Additionally, Cora said that the committee’s most recent proposal included cutting the time of parent-teacher conferences in elementary schools and taking out contract language that would allow teachers to leave the building during unassigned periods.

The School Committee voted on a budget last month and Narkewicz told the Gazette on Wednesday that he is recommending an increase to the school district’s budget to “support the School Committee’s negotiations.”

“I am going to recommend an additional $301,137 more to the Northampton Public Schools above what the School Committee budget called for,” he said, adding that it’s a 4.5 percent increase in the budget from the previous year.

At school committee meetings over the past few months, NASE members have spoken out about pay, asking for an increase to the school’s budget to accommodate possible wage increases, which would be determined through bargaining. The budget must be finalized by the end of June, but Narkewicz said it is not uncommon for the budget to be passed before negotiations conclude.

Of bargaining, Narkewicz said, “I remain hopeful that we will be able to achieve a contract with our school employees.”

Starting next week, Cora said, working to rule will go on indefinitely. Teachers will stick only to their contracts — including not buying supplies with their own money. “Educators spend hundreds of dollars of their own money to keep their classrooms stocked with things,” she said.

Provost said that during a work-to-rule action, there can be rumors about events being canceled, and he said families should reach out to school administrators with any questions on the impacts of the work to rule.

“I think it’s important if parents come across any information, or students come across any information that they find upsetting, that they immediately contact the principal,” he said of potential impacts of the work-to-rule action.

He plans to send home information about working to rule to the school community. Any after-school activity that staff is paid to do will go on, the letter says.

Egitto said NASE is not happy to be working to rule.

“It’s not something we want to do,” she said. “Every single person I’ve spoken to today feels sad. We all feel really sad and disappointed in our school committee and our city.”

Additionally, a student walkout at Northampton High School in support of NASE is planned for Friday by the high school Democrats and other groups.

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com.




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