Talks grind on between Hingham schools, teachers
Almost a year after their last contract expired, and less than six weeks before the new school year starts, Hingham teachers remain without a contract, an ordeal that is wearing on them.
“Here we are in July of 2011 and we have nothing to consider,’’ said Alec Porter, president of the union, the Hingham Education Association. “We’re hoping to have something to ratify in late August, early September . . . having received a message from the negotiating team that we will have something to consider in the first weeks of the school year. But we’ll see.’’
Porter took over as president this past month after the previous president, Ellen McNulty, resigned due to the labor disagreements.
McNulty said differences in working conditions, pay, and other disputes have caused negotiations to be put on hold. After months of attempting to work things out, McNulty said she no longer had the strength to fight, and is leaving the teaching profession.
“I’m not alone. . . . People are struggling,’’ she said. “I don’t think the School Committee realizes how bad it really is for us.’’
The lengthy negotiations may lead her former colleagues to drastic steps. If a contract is not finalized by September, said Porter, union teachers would resort to working “to rule,’’ or doing only what is contractually required of them. Porter has said teachers would no longer do such things as chaperone dances, host evening programs, or perhaps even write college recommendations.
School administrators met Monday to talk about the negotiations, but didn’t disclose details of their talks. No offer has been made to the unions, and no meetings between the sides are scheduled.
The chairwoman of the Hingham School Committee, Linda Hill, who was present at Monday’s discussions, said the union has made officials aware of the work-to-rule plan - one the committee hopes to avoid. “The teachers put in a lot of extra effort and time, which is very much appreciated, above and beyond the school day. But if [teachers working to rule] is the situation, we will feel the effects of that,’’ she said.
Hill said she didn’t doubt that if a contract weren’t ratified by the start of the school year, that the union officials would follow through on their threat.
Yet despite the ticking timeline, the chairwoman sounded confident.
“We’re continuing to negotiate, and I’m optimistic that we will reach a settlement,’’ she said. “I’m hoping we can come to an agreement before school starts.’’
Superintendent Dorothy Galo, who said this has been one of the longer labor negotiations in the history of the Hingham teachers union, also said recent exchanges had been positive.
“We’re optimistic,’’ she said last week. “We’ve had some productive conversations recently.’’
Monday’s meeting was one of dozens school officials have had regarding the labor contracts, a conversation that began in May 2009. The agreement officially expired last August, and teachers have been working since then under terms of the previous contract.
Others within the schools had been working under contracts that were about to expire.
At a School Committee meeting last week, Hingham officials ratified an agreement with cafeteria managers, assistant managers, and food service technicians. The old agreement will be extended for another two years, with an increase in pay of 2 percent each year.
This past year, technicians and managers worked under the same contract, with no pay increase.
Officials similarly ratified a contract with custodial and maintenance workers. Their contract will be extended for two years. Workers will receive 2 percent increases each subsequent year of the contract after receiving no raise this past year.
Kids in Action teachers and aides also received 2 percent increases for the next year. Stipends were also set for per diem and hourly workers for 2011-2012.
Bus driver contracts are also close to being settled, Hill said.
Although union officials and administrators have no talks scheduled, Hill hopes to meet at least once before the school year starts on Sept. 6.
“We don’t have anything else scheduled, but there are communications ongoing,’’ Hill said. “I would hope that we have one [more meeting] at some point.’’
Jessica Bartlett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.