2015-10-08 / Front Page

Teachers Protest in Middletown

By James Merolla

More than 100 teachers protested in front of Middletown Town Hall on Monday, Oct. 5, frustrated with the Town Council's involvement in contract negotiations.

Assembling an hour prior to the evening's Town Council meeting, the union protested the council’s rejection of a plan negotiated with the School Committee to extend the teachers' expired contract by six months. The memorandum of agreement, or MOA, calls for maintaining salaries and benefits where they stand, and safeguarding student centered issues such as class size, according to the union.

NEA Middletown and the School Committee currently are in mediation working toward a new agreement, and the purpose of the MOA was to provide a stable environment for education while the process worked itself out, the union said in a statement.

NEA Middletown President Lisa Wood said the council is interfering in school issues by undermining the good faith agreement teachers reached with the School Committee.

“The Town Council said that the MOA is ‘not good for kids,’” Wood commented, “but there is no justification for that claim. All it does is extend what is in effect now for up to six months while we continue to work together on a new collective bargaining agreement.”

The teachers carried two dozen signs, some of which read, in part: “If you can read this, thank a teacher"; “I live, work and vote here"; “How can you put children first if you put teachers last?”; “Working without a contract”; and “Work with us, NOT against us!”

The teachers took a slow, silent walk around Town Hall every few minutes, then reassembled along the West Main Road sidewalk near moving traffic, acknowledging the occasional beeping car horn.

So many teachers showed up to support the effort that the small lot at Town Hall filled quickly and others attending the meeting had to park elsewhere.

At dusk, teachers reassembled inside, filling the chamber as Wood addressed the council.

“Middletown teachers are here tonight to express to you our disappointment in your decision not to ratify our MOA and also in your subsequent comments. Our disappointment is multifaceted,” said Wood.

“We have been negotiating, in good faith, with the School Committee. It has become obvious to us, based on your vote, that they are not in control of the negotiating process,” she added.

“Your explanation for not ratifying included two reasons, both of which have no basis or justification,” said Wood. “First, you stated that the MOA would ‘not be good for kids.’ How is a contract extension which protects teachers’ terms and conditions of employment not good for our kids?” Wood asked. “Second, you stated that the MOA would have a negative fiscal impact on the community. It is difficult to understand how taking a zero percent increase would have a negative effect…unless you are suggesting that we are worth less than zero.”

“Honestly, we feel like we are in the middle of two feuding groups…and that’s actually what hurts kids,” Wood concluded to rousing applause.

As the council meeting progressed, the teachers left collectively.

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