Left In Lowell

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April 3, 2012

Transparency in Union Bargaining

by at 7:14 am.

Too big to bargain?

Public sentiment strongly favors union negotiations to be held in the open, with the terms disclosed to the public. During campaign season, candidates ensure the voters that they will push for more transparency. Yet, nothing happens.

Things are starting to happen around Lowell. Now is the time for the Lowell School Committee to force the issue.

DRACUT — Contract talks between the Dracut Teachers Association and School Committee were derailed last week when the School Committee asked to hold future bargaining sessions with the DTA in public, according to representatives from both sides.

At a scheduled bargaining session between the teachers union and School Committee held Tuesday at the central school offices on Lakeview Avenue, the School Committee’s attorney, Ed Morris, made a request “to enter conversation with the DTA to ask to have the negotiations go public,” said Dracut Teachers Association President Linda Dugan.

I’m going to give Dracut an “A” for sentiment, but a “D” for tactics. This attempt is flawed, as the School Committee has already begun negotiations. The “ground rules” are already established.

Westford School Committee tried it another way:

The School Committee has repeatedly been asked to supply the public with details of our negotiations with the teachers union. During the course of formal negotiations the sharing of negotiation details with the public about the offers was prohibited. After formal negotiations ended, the committee accepted the advice of the state mediator from the Division of Labor Relations, not to disclose the details of the offers over the course of the mediation with the Westford Education Association as the best process to reach an agreement. On Feb. 28, 2012, an agreement on the terms of a successor contract was reached with the negotiating team authorized to represent the teachers. This agreement was rejected by the teachers union members at a ratification vote on March 16, 2012. Therefore, in an effort to inform, we have put together the following explanation of the agreement reached on Feb. 28, including requests made by the teachers’ negotiating team that were not agreed to.

I like Westford’s approach better. This School Committee leveled the awareness of the public. Considering that the rank and file of the Westford teachers union knew the details, why should the general public not?

Ultimately, these matters need to be worked out when the negotiation ground rules are set. Transparency must be ensured before the negotiating parties begin to bargain.

If the Unions refuse ….. ? Well, they just got 3% and the sunset provision allows them to ride that for a good long time. At some point, they’ll come back. We have to give the School Committee the fortitude to be firm on this point.

This won’t be easy, folks. As voter turnout dwindles, union votes will be coveted by shallow candidates.

6 Responses to “Transparency in Union Bargaining”

  1. Shawn Says:

    How long do you let negotiations go on before you have to sit back and re-look at the process? This has been going on since the contract ran out last June in Dracut.

    I like Westford’s report, but there needs to be interim information as well (such as what Tyngsboro does with a report a couple days after each session).

    Ultimately, if the negotiations are done publicly, each side will be held accountable for extreme offers unreasonable requests.

  2. Jack Says:

    Shawn,

    Can you tell us more about what Tyngsboro is doing?

    I’m not against a “hybrid” approach, where disclosures are made at certain milestones.

    I’d also like to see the potential for the school committee to delegate negotiations to an agent or team that would execute the will of the school committee to be discussed.

    A few of Lowell’s SC members has opposed this notion, in the past, but there are 4 new members on this current board. Folks should call these people and be heard.

  3. Shawn Says:

    I’m working on getting what the specifics are. From what I understand from interviews we have made with Selectmen and School cmte members in Tyngsboro, at the end of each negotiating session the two parties agree to release a statement on what was decided during that session (within 48 hours I seem to remember).

    Understood here is that the two could agree on what to release… games could be played here.

    On the other hand, all information does legally become public at the end of negotiations.. but rarely does anyone look back at those notes and minutes.

    I agree with others that have the idea that once negotiations fail, and the situation has to go to a new level (such as appealing to state arbitrators), everything should become public at that point.

    One important issue to remember when voting for a candidate is that if they have family members working for the school, they cannot participate in the negotiating or vote on the final contract.

    This would be true of Brian Martin in Tyngsboro, who is running for Greater Lowell Tech School Committee, as his wife works for the school.

    We had similar situations with Dracut School Committee members in the past.

  4. Right In Lowell Says:

    Nobody should ever vote for a candidate who cannot vote on any union contract. It’s the main function of a school committee.

  5. Jack Says:

    RiL,
    Do you think it wise for the SC to appoint an agent or a team to negotiate for them? Assume using on hand staff, so there is no extra cost.

    The CC uses the CM to negotiate with Unions. Should the SC mimic that model?

    Also, what are your thoughts on disclosing terms during negotiations or some hybrid, thereof?

  6. Shawn Says:

    Jack, the agent may do the work, but the committee is still responsible in the end and must be able to make the vote (if they abstain, then they have a political advantage later because ‘I didn’t vote for that raise’).

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