School Dept. Decries Union’s Refusal To Negotiate

The teachers union cites failure of the schools to notify about negotiating a new contract, paving the way for a one-year contract extension.

Before contract negotiations have even begun on a new teachers contract — the existing one expires July 30 — the two sides are at loggerheads over the breach of a clause in the contract that the union says extends their contract one year.

According to Supt. Victor Mercurio, union officials told him earlier this month that since they were not notified in writing about the school department’s desire to negotiate a new contract, the existing contract would be renewed for an additional year.

Although that language does exist in the contract between the teachers and the school department, that is not how school officials see it.

“We were surprised and disappointed,” said School Committee Chair Deidre Gifford. “There’s no reason why they can’t sit down and talk to us.”

“I think they’re embarrassed or they should be, about taking this position,” said schools lawyer Matt Oliverio, referring to the teachers’ refusal to negotiate. “This School Committee has been honest and open and worked collaboratively with this union.”

Judy Cavanaugh, co-president of the union (the East Greenwich Education Association), said the union had no comment. Emails and a phone call to the EGEA’s NEA representative Jane Argentieri went unanswered Tuesday.

In a press release issued Monday afternoon, the School Department wrote, “... it is disappointing to hear from our teacher’s union … that they have declined to open negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement.”

The release continues: “The stated reason for the union’s reluctance to open contract negotiations is the absence of a written request from the School Department prior to December 1, 2011. This is a technicality that the School Department historically has not observed.”

Mercurio acknowledged that the school department did indeed miss that deadline.

But, he said, “when we looked at whether or not communication had come from here in the last few negotiations, I could not find anything that came from here,” he said, referring to actions taken by the school department before previous negotiations.

According to Matt Oliverio, lawyer for the school department, the NEA union representative Jane Argentieri sent a letter to then-Supt. Charlie Meyers on Oct. 20, 2008, requesting that negotiations begin, citing state law. Under Rhode Island General Law 28-9.3-8, a union is required to give notice to begin collective bargaining.

She did not, he said, cite the East Greenwich contract, but instead the state statute. The reason the union had in the past notified the school department about beginning negotiations, he guessed, was that they had more to gain.

“In the past, it was always about enhancements,” he said. “They don’t want to bargain [now] because it’s about givebacks and reform.”

Oliverio said he did not accept blame for missing the Dec. 1 deadline.

“No one’s blaming anybody. It’s one of those things that happen,” he said. The teachers union “had actual and constructive notice of intent to bargain” and that should have been enough.

Supt. Mercurio said that no matter what, movement toward reform would continue. One of the most important reforms is the institution of a new teacher evaluation system, which is under way now.

“That’s not an insignificant piece, the evaluation system,” said Mercurio. “We have had what I would consider to be an exemplary partnership, and an exemplary team in place to talk about that work,” he said. That team includes school administrators and teacher union representatives. “They’re not negotiating, that team’s not negotiating. Basically what it’s doing is looking at the work in front of us and to try to move that work forward.”

"We think it’s really important to keep on moving on education reform,” said the School Committee’s Gifford, “and the door is open for the teachers to sit down and work with us.”

GameMaker January 25, 2012 at 11:51 AM
I have more respect for Bob Watson at this particular moment, than I do for the EGEA.
NKRI Transparency January 25, 2012 at 12:01 PM
As the saying goes "it's for the kids".
ELM January 25, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Sounds to me like the school committee and their highly paid lawyer missed an important deadline and are shocked that anyone noticed.
John January 25, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Teachers should be required to work in the private sector prior to "working" in a public school to realize how good they have it. Anyone who claims to be a Professional should not have to collectively bargain to prove their worth. What a joke!
ELM January 25, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Ridiculous, John. Everyone has a right to safe and fair working conditions.
EC January 25, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I'm not normally a union supporter but the school system dropped the ball on this one. Seems to me that if they want to start negotiating they need to start it with the understanding that any changes won't take effect until the next contract renewal period in another year. And why not start now even if that is the case?
EG Tom33 January 25, 2012 at 02:48 PM
Gifford is surprised and disappointed and lawyer Oliverio says they should be ashamed? Why didn't they just send notification that they wanted to negotiate just like the contact says. The one' who should be embarrassed and ashamed are lawyer Oliverio and Gifford...can't they read? Why are we paying this clown Oliverio. Gifford sounds so nieve. Is anybody at the EGSC paying attention? This is the same crew that can't build anything in town, never mind figure out how to turn the lights off at Cole. Aren't they, EGSC, also getting sued by the neighbors of Cole? This SC and their attorney Oliverio are incompetent. The union’s attorneys and reps are on the ball and the town is in the bleacher seats and I am no fan of unions! Send them their intention NOW so we can at least negotiate the next year! Unbelievable!
NKRI Transparency January 25, 2012 at 04:58 PM
ELM, have no idea how your statement is reflective of John's comment. I am 100% in favor of John's thought so many if not all can see what the real world is like. Even though procedure wasn't followed, why won't the union negotiate????
ELM January 25, 2012 at 09:12 PM
John would have teachers give up collective bargaining rights. Then we can all sit back and watch the class sizes grow and planning periods taken away and more duties added, etc. because so many people think it is so "easy" to teach. I think the tables should be turned the other way and the rest of the world ought try teaching for awhile! They might not like all the papers and tests to correct, all the planning and preparation involved before you're actually teaching a class and having just 20 minutes for lunch. Tried it once and it is NOT an easy job. And as for the negotiating, can't you see this is just the SC trying to make the teachers look bad after they (the SC) missed a deadline? Of course the teachers will negotiate if necessary but they might like the idea of getting a one year extension and avoiding the hassle of negotiating this year. Can't blame them for trying...
NKRI Transparency January 25, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Collective bargaining has gone from a good thing to license pillage. Teachers and the like don't have a clue as to what the real world is like. But then again "it's for the kids"!!!!! Possibly I am not understanding correctly - According to Supt. Victor Mercurio, union officials told him earlier this month that since they were not notified in writing about the school department’s desire to negotiate a new contract, the existing contract would be renewed for an additional year. Come on!!
ELM January 26, 2012 at 12:04 AM
Well, if that is what is in the existing contract that the SC agreed to, what's the problem? They should know that a deadline was written into the agreement and they apparently forgot about it. Isn't this the kind of thing that their attorney should be aware of? Why is it wrong for the union to assume based on the SC's lack of action that the contract will be extended for one more year?
NKRI Transparency January 26, 2012 at 03:23 AM
"Of course the teachers will negotiate if necessary but they might like the idea of getting a one year extension and avoiding the hassle of negotiating this year " "Well, if that is what is in the existing contract that the SC agreed to, what's the problem" ......gotta love the unionistic attitude. Makes me wonder why they would not want to negotiate, I mean it is for the kids....right?
ELM January 26, 2012 at 11:33 AM
Ye, it is for the kids, and extending the teacher contract for a year allows everyone to actually concentrate on teaching without all the stress that accompanies negotiations.
NKRI Transparency January 26, 2012 at 02:07 PM
Why would there be stress in collective bargaining negotiations?? Isn't collective bargaining "for the benefit of the kids"? Curious as to if you have ever reviewed the town org chart? Curious as to if union bills have been introduced for union layoffs based on seniority as opposed to what is best for the School system? I mean it's for the kids.....right?
ELM January 26, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Just who is supposed to make the decisions about "what is best?" A SC not involved with day to day school operations? A principal who might have personal prejudices? No, seniority is "what is best" unless there is valid data proving a teacher is incompetent in which case they should be let go before they get tenure (which I understand has happened a few times in EG) so I would say the system is working.
Heather Larkin January 26, 2012 at 02:52 PM
I've often had the sense that many teachers don't wholly embrace their union. Based on my observations over the years, most seem uncomfortable with union language and tactics. They are members because they have to be but they appear to not be particularly involved and just want to teach. Is it foolish to hope for a revolution?? Maybe reasonable voices could prevail.
NKRI Transparency January 26, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Just who is supposed to make the decisions about "what is best?" -- How about results? RI is working towards retaining teachers that show results which seems to makes sense to most reasonable individual. A principle probably level to your expectations when dealing with business or other. The veil of protectionism needs to be pulled back allowing for the best possible education for our kids. I mean it's for the kids....right?
Leo January 26, 2012 at 09:09 PM
This is from today's Pendulum: "To ensure that our students receive the highest quality education possible, the East Greenwich School Department believes it is urgent that we continue down the path of education reform." With test scores in EG about as high as they can be, where the %^^&* is the need for urgency????!!!! No, there is another agenda at work here and it involves destroying collective bargaining. It seems no matter how good a job the teachers do, it is justnever enough. Ridiculous, demoralizing and demeaning to a good education system.
NKRI Transparency January 26, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Instead of looking at situatoins and requirements objectively the new battle cry is the destruction of collective bargaining. it is unfortunate that the same do not or wangt to see things the way they are. The SC makes an an error with the union seeing an opportunity to capitalize and take advantage. Then the same want to minipulate the truth for sympathy. I would suggest you look inside when you use the words ridiculous, demoralizing and demoralizing.........as they say, "peel the onion.
Leo January 26, 2012 at 09:37 PM
@NKRI I am aghast at her use of the word "urgency" as applied to a thriving successful school system. Not at all sure what you're talking about.
NKRI Transparency January 26, 2012 at 10:30 PM
Seems that we are on equal footing as I have no idea to what you are referring to. My reference is to the same that are causing the issue(s) that are looking to turn it around seeking the sympathy card.
GameMaker January 26, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Leo, I'm confused. The school department is upset because the EGEA is not willing to negotiate this year, based on a technicality in the contract. How does this relate to trying to destroy collective bargaining? I would think it, in fact, demonstrates just the opposite.
NKRI Transparency January 27, 2012 at 04:01 AM
I just had opportunity to read the complete article and associated regarding the above topic. The level in which the minority has dragged this is deplorable and the people responsible for and or support this type of action should be ashamed of themselves.
NKRI Transparency January 27, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Everyone only has so much energy such that self-evaluation is important minimizing waste. For those curious and or interested in cost effective alternatives, please see the following link: http://ri-can.org/campaigns/put-achievement-first


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