The Westford Education Association is suspending work-to-rule activities as of the close of school on Friday, Feb. 17. We are taking this step in order to let the bargaining process continue in the hopes we can reach a fair settlement in the near future.
Our participation in these activities, phased in over the past four weeks, was designed to illustrate to the community the many ways teachers go above and beyond what we are contractually obligated to do in order to provide Westford’s students with an excellent education.
The legal process will move forward on our prohibited practice charge filed with the Department of Labor Relations contending that Westford’s withholding of previously negotiated step increases was illegal. Based on recent actions by the state in a similar case involving Lunenburg, we believe that we will prevail. Even fiscally conservative Westford residents and elected officials should consider the wisdom of negotiating a just and reasonable contract offer prior to any ruling by the state. Failure to do so will cost the town unnecessary legal fees, and risks making the school committee liable for paying restitution for past step increases if the state rules those increases were improperly withheld.
We want the bargaining process to work and for the parties to negotiate a fair contract that will continue to attract and retain quality educators. We have repeatedly made counter-offers that would save the taxpayers of Westford money. Our most recent offer, on February 15, would cost the town half a million dollars less than if the state rules that the withholding of step increases this year was illegal.
The WEA has set a deadline of April 9 for a fair contract settlement. By that time, the parties will have received a decision from the state regarding the failure to pay step increases. If the parties have not reached agreement by that date, the WEA will implement the next stages of our campaign.
We have made giant strides toward meeting the school committee’s demands, while the school committee has so far just made baby steps in our direction. However, baby steps are better than no steps at all. We will continue to make our case to parents, the community and elected officials asking the school committee to meet us half way. The sooner we have a fair contract offer, the sooner we can all go back to devoting all of our energies to providing Westford’s students with the excellent education they deserve.
- WEA president Ruth Freeman and WEA bargaining negotiations lead/vice president Mary McCusker