• Chuck Clark
    “Coming together is a beginning. Staying together is a process. Working together is winning.” Henry Ford

Like a bear awakening from a deep winter sleep, Unit A contract negotiations are returning to life after a brief summer vacation. All other units, traditionally put on hold until teachers settle, are lining up for initial talks with the other side.

Unit A negotiation between our bargaining team, and the members of the School Committee will restart September 3, 2014. After exchanging proposals in mid-February 2013, meetings continued until mid-June, when they were suspended. In four months of meetings, tentative agreements were reached on some issues, some issues were moved to study groups to gather more information before decision, and other issues were briefly broached and remain largely undiscussed.

Considering the time and effort already invested, I wish I could say there was more progress.

Over the summer I met with the Mayor and the Superintendent. We discussed the lamentable history of protracted contract negotiations in Chicopee where beginning a new school year under an expired contract is not the exception but the norm going back as far as 20 years. What does this history say about the relationship between labor and management? What does this history say about the City’s elected officials ability to carry out their duties and meet their responsibilities in a timely manner? What does it say about their commitment to city employees? More importantly, what does it say to the parents and their school age children?

Not settling a contract in Chicopee is not news. This lack of urgency, this dragging of official feet, this we will get-to-it-eventually policy creates a backlog that generates more work and steals valuable focus from new issues that require attention but get short shrift. Everyone suffers. Retroactive pay is only one example of the waste of municipal time and money resulting from not settling contracts.

Is the collective bargaining process in Chicopee caught in a swift current carrying us toward a crisis in which no agreement can be reached? Not yet. With the addition of School Committee members to the bargaining boat, we may yet reach dry land and a mutually acceptable agreement.

Will we settle a one year contract for 2014-15 and then a second three year deal from 2015-2018? It is an option to discuss.

Will the Mayor commit precious tax dollars to a multi-year agreement that pays teachers a fair wage; one that recognizes the essential contribution teachers make to our society?

Judging from the 1% raise appropriated for teachers in the 2014-15 School budget, I wonder.

My pessimism with the process, (see “The Negotiations Problem” under President Corner tab) is offset for now by the willingness of the Superintendent to engage. In a break with tradition he will be attending our 9.3.14 meeting along with members of the Committee. The Mayor has been invited.  Can we agree to expedite the process by setting up three meetings in September and October, an idea that is supported by players from both sides, with the agreement to settle by the end of the third? Will we agree to settle, giving the members a chance to vote to accept or reject the agreement, or will we declare a deadlock and move to mediation?

I believe that reasonable people like the Superintendent, who cares about the well being of the students under his charge, and the Mayor, who is not only accountable to the voters but as Chair of the School Committee responsible for overseeing the education of their children, can and will find common ground with the CEA collective bargaining teams on fundamental principles and goals. With common ground as a starting point, specific differences on how to meet the goals and uphold the principles can be reached. Even thorny issues like money and time can be worked out, where there is a willingness to work together. Together, the School Committee, the Superintendent, the Administration under his leadership, and the rank and file members of the Chicopee Education Association must agree to meet and bargain and settle in good faith.

As the chair of the Unit A team, I believe the prior open ended process of collective bargaining is unacceptable.

I say, “Let the bargaining begin and end.”