The following is a Letter to the Editor that is also Published in Today’s SUN!
By Paul Georges (The President of the United Teachers of Lowell)
It has been nearly 17 months since School Department employees have had a contract, testing the patience of 1,671 hard-working public employees.
The mayor’s insistence on a public negotiating process and the subsequent creation of a threeperson subcommittee devoid of even one elected committee member with no real authority, only acted to distance and insulate the committee members from any meaningful role in the negotiating process. Combining this political showmanship with unrealistic demands for significant concessions has made it easy to simply say “no.”
But perhaps the one thing the mayor and the School Committee did not take into consideration is that teachers, paraprofessionals and support staff are educated, informed employees who will not ratify any regressive proposal regardless of who recommends it. Perhaps they have forgotten the chant of ‘CONTRACT NOW” by nearly 1,000 School Department employees and their supporters in the shadow of City Hall in September. Our educators and support staff simply deserve better.
Four years ago, School Department and city unions voluntarily switched to the Government Insurance Commission, saving the city nearly $24.5 million in health-insurance costs during FY13, FY14 and FY15. City unions were rewarded with three-year contracts. School Department unions received two-year contracts despite the promise that all would benefit.
In June 2013, the UTL informed the committee of the pending elimination of the healthinsurance trust fund, containing approximately $7 million, with $3.5 million to $4 million due to the School Department, as it had already been charged to the School Department by the city. The School Committee did nothing to recover that money, as former City Manager Lynch appropriated it elsewhere with no input from the School Committee whatsoever. And now we are told that if the union prevails in pending arbitrations for contract violations by the committee there will be little if any money left for reasonable salary increases — rewarding the party that did the harm at the expense of the party that didn’t.
And more, we have been informed that the School Department has a structural deficit of more than $1 million and that the city manager has taken back $300,000 in money already appropriated for our schools. So much for coincidence.
Lowell has a remarkable school system held together, despite frequent changes in leadership and protracted contract negotiations, by dedicated and talented educators and support staff who make our students their priority. They deserve better.
As we approach 500 days without a contract, we ask the citizens of Lowell to support our educators and support those candidates on Election Day who will insist on fairness and respect for our talented and dedicated educators as they continue their work in the best interest of our students and the Lowell community.