Westford's Teachers Aim To Get Town's Attention Outside Schools
Westford teachers hope that a series of visibility actions outside Westford's public schools before and after the regular school day this week will sway residents to their side.
Following the recent negotiating impasse that ended the current round of mediation between the Westford Education Association and the Westford School Committee, WEA members began taking to the street corners outside schools to once again aim at garnering support at their cause.
The visibility began on Monday, with teachers from the Nabnasset, Miller and Robinson Schools outside carrying banners and wearing the bright green t-shirts of the union before and after the school day, with teachers from Westford’s other public schools standing outside on Monday morning.
Monday’s efforts will be duplicated, with the t-shirts and banners shifting on Tuesday to the Abbot, Day and Crisafulli Schools, Wednesday to the Stony Brook and Blanchard Schools and on Thursday to Westford Academy at times that will not conflict with their obligations in the classroom.
According to WEA officials, the teachers’ early arrival has continued for the safety of their students, despite the union’s “work-to-rule” action, where all voluntary work-related activities are prohibited.
Teachers such as WEA negotiating team leader Mary McCusker say they are aiming to do those voluntary actions, such as writing college recommendations for students, during work hours to avoid shortchanging their students while not violating the work-to-rule decision.
While town officials have noted that the town’s other unions have come to agreements, McCusker believes that such comparisons are unfair.
“Other unions only have five steps, we have 14 steps. It’s apples and oranges, it’s not the same,” she said. “And it’s only a reopening clause, it doesn’t mean that (the town) has to pay the other unions because they have a reopening clause allowing them to renegotiate their contracts.”
Negotiations are set to restart on Wednesday, with WEA members hoping to reach an agreement they can live with while satisfying the needs of negotiators on the other side.
“We’ve always been more than willing to try and work within the financial restraints (the town) says they are working under,” said negotiating team member and Nabnasset special needs teacher Lisa Navarro. “We have yet to get any clarifying statements from them regarding our non-budgetary offers, they simply say they will not discuss, no, no, no. We haven’t heard any reasoning why.”
Currently both sides have come to agreement on 11 of the 22 items currently under negotiation, although neither side has elaborated further over details of what those items are, with McCusker only noting that they are fairly non-controversial topics.
Following a question during Monday night's School Committee meeting, School Committee chairwoman Angela Harkness indicated that mediations ended at the request of the mediator after their belief that no further progress could be made during that mediation.
Harkness also indicated that the main piece of contention was compensation, although no further information could be provided due to an agreement between both sides prior the beginning of the contract process that negotiations would be private.
However, on that note, School Committee member David Keele said he would make a motion to publicize details of negotiations to the public if progress was not made from Wednesday's meeting.
In addition to mediation, Wednesday will also hold a hearing in regard to the union's unfair labor practices claim against the town. If that claim continues, according to Harkness on Monday night, the process could continue until January 2013.