With work-to-rule in place, city teachers get vocal

With work-to-rule in place, city teachers get vocal

WOONSOCKET – City teachers returned to school Tuesday after the holiday weekend under work-to-rule status to protest what they see as the administration’s unwillingness to negotiate a fair contract, an arrangement no one in the city, including the teachers, seemed happy about.

Several teachers and parents showed up at Tuesday’s City Council meeting to share concerns about the situation, including Michelle Marandola, a mother of two juniors at Woonsocket High School and 3rd-grade teacher at Leo Savoie Elementary School. Along with several other teachers, she expressed disappointment that negotiations had reached an impasse and defended the teachers’ decision to work to the letter of their contracts until the situation is resolved.

“I can’t for the life of me figure out how we became the enemy here,” she said. “Asking for fair wages is not a crime.”

Work-to-rule is a negotiating tactic by which union members perform the bare minimum required by contract until a new contract can be reached. For city teachers, that means arriving 10 minutes before the start of the school day and leaving 10 minutes after dismissal, with no volunteer hours spent on grading papers, answering emails, chaperoning school social events or overseeing extracurricular activities for which they don’t receive a stipend. It’s not an ideal situation for either students or teachers, who say they can’t perform their jobs under the current status but claim their hands are tied by the lack of progress on a new contract.

As Alethea Forcier, co-chairwoman of the Woonsocket Middle School PTO, pointed out, the situation draws attention to the many unpaid tasks performed by teachers over the course of a school day, tasks many city residents are unaware don’t receive compensation under their contracts. Teachers in Woonsocket use their own money to pay for classroom decorations and coach several sports and other extracurricular activities at the middle school on a volunteer basis. Even after-school dismissal presents a challenge, with district administrators now filling in to perform a task usually overseen by teachers who stay long past the required 10 minutes.

“The children are the victims here,” said Forcier.

Teachers voted to move to work-to-rule status on Aug. 27 after negotiations between city representatives and the Woonsocket Teachers Guild (WTG) reached an impasse the previous week. At stake is a pay raise requested by teachers that would be the second awarded since the 2008-2009 school year. While neither WTG leadership nor city representatives would disclose the numbers under consideration, several teachers present at the City Council meeting said the city declined to offer any pay raise for the 2018-2019 school year, terms Marandola said were presented to teachers at last week’s meeting.

Speaking to The Breeze Tuesday night, WTG President Jeffrey Partington said the impasse stems from the city’s unwillingness to increase the local contribution even as the state contribution is scheduled to level off next fiscal year. Earlier in the evening, he asked city councilors to commit to increasing local funding during fiscal year 2020, a move that seemed to suggest teachers might be more willing to negotiate the current year’s terms if city officials commit to increasing funds during years two and three of their contract.

“If you do that, we can settle this contract, we can stop all these things that are going on, because we should not be without a contract today,” he said.

For all their impassioned speeches, teachers’ words fell on ears with little power to act Tuesday, since only one member of the City Council, Councilor Richard Fagnant, is on the negotiating committee appointed by Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt. On Tuesday, Fagnant defended the actions of the committee but stopped short of revealing details of negotiations.

“I don’t believe you should take it out on the mayor,” he said. “We’re trying to figure it out, we’re trying to do what’s best for the city.”

Work-to-rule status will continue until both parties reach an agreement or teachers decide to end it, though at the moment, neither side shows signs of budging in what has been an emotional negotiation process beginning in March.

Comments

Am curious as to the current rate of pay. Teachers do so much on their "own time"....let's face it. Hopefully this gets resolved soon for everyone's benefit. But I am still wondering, what is their current pay scale.

Most of the people (taxpayers) don't even have union representation. Yea, the cost of living is going up, it's going up for taxpayers too.

Union membership in the United States has declined since the 1960's; from about 29% of workers to just about 12%. Current workers wages are stagnant and not keeping up with inflation>
Woonsocket teachers agreed, in good faith, to a pay deferment in 2008 which turned into a pay cut in 2011. For this they were lavished with praise by the press, politicians and citizenry.
Now, when asking for fair compensation for their sacrifices, they are now lambasted for daring to ask for a raise.
When an non-union individual asks for a raise, they are perceived as "a hard worker looking out for themselves and their family".
When a collective union ask for a raise, it seems many believe they are "lazy no-goods" "strong arming" the public for more money.

Teachers are taxpayers too.