2015-09-24 / Front Page

Contract Extension Rebuffed

By James Merolla

The Middletown Town Council voted down a six-month extension of its teacher contract on Monday, Sept. 21, in front of a packed house of more than 120 people, 70 of them teachers, who left council chambers in angry silence without commenting on the rejection.

The packed house overflowed into the corridors but dispersed seconds after Council President Robert J. Sylvia read a prepared statement, which said, in part: “Before the vote, the Town Council analyzed the complete fiscal impact study prepared by the School Department detailing short-term and long-term costs associated with the tentative agreement…The proposed agreement falls short of what the Town Council has come to expect when ratifying labor contracts for the other employee groups with the town, the school, and the library.”

The six-month proposal that the School Committee negotiated with NEA Middletown, the union that represents the teachers, would have extended all terms and conditions of the 2012 contract.

“The proposed contract would terminate mid-way through the school year, which created the potential for significant distrac- tions for both the teachers and the school’s administration,” read Sylvia, during “a critical time of the school year and the budget process. This could be very disruptive for our students and to the educational process.”

The council’s vote was 6-0, with council member Paul Rodrigues recusing himself because of a family conflict.

“Despite our vote, we commend the parties for their efforts so far, and we are confident they will negotiate an agreement that benefits all the stakeholders in town including, most importantly, our students,” Sylvia concluded.

When approached after the meeting, teachers would not speak to the press. When Sylvia was approached for additional meaning and numbers, he said, “I will let the statement I read speak for itself,” although he intimated that he and the rest of the council were confident that a deal would be struck soon and that it would benefit everyone involved.

In a significant related contract, the council unanimously voted to ratify the new three-year agreement that the School Committee negotiated with R.I. AFSCME, Council 94, the union that represents the School Department custodial and facility employees.

In another prepared statement, Sylvia read, “Before the vote, the Town Council analyzed the complete fiscal impact study prepared by the School Department detailing the short-term and long-term costs associated with the tentative agreement as required by the Town’s Home Rule Charter."

The council pointed out that this was the first tentative agreement that the School Committee has reached with any of its collective bargaining units since the town’s voters amended the charter in November 2012, and which now gives the council final authority to ratify any collective bargaining agreements reached between the schools and their employees.

The council commended the School Committee and the union for containing personnel costs, decreasing costs associated with postretirement benefits, providing mandatory skill training and further addressing future potential savings through the subcontracting of work.

Later, John Burns, who represents Council 94, told the council, “Members of our union have made sacrifices over the years. In this contract, again, employees have made sacrifices. The employees have really stepped up to the plate over the years; in our case the maintenance people in particular have saved the town millions of dollars."

Union President David Rodrigues, who is Paul Rodrigues brother, said he understood the financial challenges the council faces. He said his crew has saved the council $4 million over his tenure on some 54 projects over two decades.

“I am just proud of all our guys and what I’m most proud of is that no one has ever been hurt,” said Rodrigues. “We’ve made some concessions. Down the road, it would be nice to get a raise for our guys.”

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