Thursday, May 7, 2015

Comments From May 6, 2015 Meeting Regarding COSA Contract Vote

Last night, I voted "No" on item 5.7 on our agenda.  It was approval of an MOU for a new contract with members of one of our four bargaining units, COSA.  Below is the text of my statement, but I want to be clear that the vote "No" was not in any way indicative of how I feel about the unit or the individuals that make up the unit.

After a years of negotiating, I believe we came to an agreement in line (in every way but one) with our other three units, and consistent with our belief that we as a district are partners with our staff in providing a top-notch opportunity for our students to get the best education offered to a public school student.  The "no" vote was because all five Board members were clear in their instructions to the administration negotiating team that we would not accept retroactive pay.  I am not willing to compromise on that.  It violates my principles.  While I accept that the other Board members are willing to back off that stance for reasons they have, I see no good reason to do so.  To be clear, I suggested that the amount of the retroactive pay be included in a raise for next year rather than paid retroactively for this year.  That would have made the contract value the same, but for reasons that were never made clear, that was rejected.

Also, the retroactive pay encompasses a term where the bargaining unit had step increases in force as per the Triborough Amendment to the Taylor Law.

Here is the text of my remarks:

I will be voting no on this agenda item.  As we got closer and closer to tonight’s meeting, I have to admit I wavered on this vote.  I seriously considered voting yes.  I was thinking I could justify a yes vote by saying that the total finances of the deal over the life of the contract was fair.  It is. I could justify it as the fastest way to get the teacher aides a much deserved raise that brings their salary more in line with their work product and other similar TAs in districts throughout Westchester. It is.  Or, more easily, I could separate the collective bargaining unit from the individuals.  Individually, I know ALL the members of the unit to be hard working people and more importantly, to be good people who care about our district and our students.

Separating the individual from the unit is not my role as a fiduciary to the district when negotiating with a bargaining unit.  In fact, it pained me that for several years we could only look at COSA as one unit.  While they stand together as a unit, not all were similarly affected by the lack of agreement. Some had step increases because of the Triborough amendment while others were off step or as is the case with the Teacher Aides, had no steps whatsoever.

I can only speak for myself here when I say that I would have loved to settle this contract sooner.  I would have readily voted yes on a contract years ago that was consistent with what the other bargaining units agreed to, mainly the recognition that we are partners that must weather the good times and the difficult times together.

One of the primary terms we stated we would not agree to was retroactive pay and a retroactive contract.  According to the legislature, the Triborough amendment to the Taylor law fairly compensated for a unit’s inability to legally strike.  That amendment has been interpreted to say that step increases in the previous expired contract would continue in force.  So, they did.

The district has very little leverage in negotiations.  One possible lever is not agreeing to retro pay increases.  We were very clear both formally and informally that we would not agree to a retroactive contract and that the average 2.9% or so step increase raise would not only be it, but it, on average, exceeded what the other bargaining units agreed to.

Yet, with this agenda item, we are being asked to approve of a contract that includes a retroactive pay increase to the beginning of the school year.  It also for some reason encompasses the past 4 years.

As somebody who negotiated in good faith, as someone whose word is his bond, I think it inappropriate to vote yes on this contract.  Simply put, despite my personal appreciation for the individuals who compose this bargaining unit, I will not compromise my principles and approve a contract that includes retroactive pay or one that encompasses a period that has already passed.