Cranston Teacher's Union: Contract Dispute is about Fairness
Union officials said they filed an unfair labor practices complaint after the district reportedly threatened to outsource teacher assistants during contract talks.
"We believe this is not bargaining in good faith," said Lizbeth Larkin, head of the Cranston Teacher's Alliance. "This group of employees are among the lowest paid in the state and the concessions that the Cranston school committee was demanding would have caused additional financial hardship for these people. When we couldn’t agree, then the school committee threatened privatization by stating they were going to put out an RFP for these services."
A day after the superintendent of Cranston Public Schools called out the Cranston Teacher's Alliance, blaming them for stalled contract talks, the head of the union has responded by saying the union has already given up millions in concessions in recent years.
"In 2011 when the Cranston Public Schools was having serious financial issues, the Cranston Teachers’ Alliance negotiated a contract reopener and gave back $5.1 million so that the schools could successfully move forward from 2011-13," Larkin said. "When we began this latest round of negotiations over a year ago, the Cranston school committee was still adamant about further concessionary bargaining. We felt, and still feel, that all of our groups that work very hard and have given back deserve fair and equitable contracts."
School officials said earlier this week that the union's most recent offer was to increase compensation and benefits by 4 percent and that is money "we simply don't have," said Superintendent Judith Lundsten.
That proposal would consume virtually all the additional money Cranston will be receiving over the next few years as the fair funding formula doles out millions in extra state aid, school officials contend. That money is expected to stabilize by 2018 and school officials worry that the district will find itself strapped for cash in the long run.
They also said the extra costs from the proposal would leave no money for new programs and initiatives like all-day kindergarten.
But the union has made it clear that it will stand behind teacher assistants. And both sides said they have a history of working collaboratively, despite the recent setbacks in the contract talks.
"The Cranston Teachers’ Alliance has a long history of working collaboratively and reaching agreements and we will continue to do," Larkin said.
"We are at the negotiating table already. Mediation continues and we will continue to negotiate in good faith with the funding we have at our disposal," Lundsten said.