Teachers faked crisis to precipitate illegal strike

The Tiverton (RI) School Committee and teachers union spent nearly five hours in mediation Wednesday night in separate rooms at the high school in an effort to get closer on a new contract agreement, but the newest proposal made by the School Committee is being termed a "non-starter" by the union.

The two sides will negotiate again Monday and Tuesday, although the School Committee had asked for a Saturday meeting, which the teachers union rejected.

"It clearly means there wasn't any crisis," School Committee Vice Chairman Michael Burk said of the union going on strike this week for a day after claiming the School Committee would not meet to negotiate.

"Mr. Burk should know better than to inflame the situation," said Patrick Crowley, assistant executive director of the National Education Association of Rhode Island whose members waited weeks this summer for a counterproposal from the School Committee.

Court-appointed mediator John Harrington talked to each side three times Wednesday night. The School Committee's negotiating team was in the high school library and the teachers team was in the former guidance office around the corner on the main floor.

Teachers staged a one-day strike Tuesday and spent much of the day picketing at the entrance road to the high school while School Committee attorney Stephen Robinson and Superintendent William Rearick spent the day in Newport Superior Court seeking a temporary restraining order to force the teachers back to work. The teachers contract expired last Friday, three days after the start of the new school year.

The consent order issued by Superior Court Judge Vincent A. Ragosta on Tuesday afternoon required the School Committee majority to take part in negotiations, beginning Wednesday night. The union had complained that the superintendent was the primary negotiator but he had no power to approve an agreement.

"No progress was made, but the union is happy all School Committee members were present," said Crowley, of NEA-Tiverton's 205 members.

"Teachers would be making less than they're making now," Crowley said of the latest proposal. He said the teachers union will make a counteroffer that will be more "realistic."

"At this rate it could go on for quite a while," he said.

The School Committee's latest offer, presented to the teachers' 10-person negotiating team, calls for a 2 percent salary increase the first year and a 12 percent health-insurance co-payment. In years two and three, the salary increase would be 1.5 percent each year and 20 percent co-payment, according to School Committee Chairwoman Denise deMedeiros.

"There was no response to our proposal tonight," deMedeiros said.

"Their offer still doesn't come close to being described as adequate," Crowley said.

The teachers' latest proposal, submitted last week, asked for 3.75 percent salary increases each year for three years, and included a proposal for a higher deductible health plan that they said would save the district $186,000. The School Committee has refuted that number.

There is a fixed amount of money for salary increases and health benefits, Burk said. "We are not going to fund salary increases or health-benefit sharing by cutting programs," he said.

Asked if the union planned any more picketing or job actions, Crowley said: "Definitely, there will be more public protests."


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