Boston Union, District Break Off Negotiations; Strike Threatened

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After seven months of negotiations, the Boston School Committee and the Boston Teachers Union this month broke off contract talks amid union leaders' allegations that the school department was pushing the teachers toward a strike.

As of late last week, teachers were still on the job and no strike vote had been scheduled by the union. A teachers' rally outside the school department's administrative offices was scheduled for Thursday, however, to show support for the union's position and "to put pressure on the school committee to bargain on the contract, according to a union spokesman.

The school committee declared an "impasse" earlier this month because it believed the union was not bargaining seriously, according to Ian Forman, spokesman for the school department. Both sides had agreed to call in a mediator to help with the stalled negotiations, but Mr. Forman said it became clear after two days that mediation would not help break the deadlock. The teachers have been working without a contract since Sept. 1.

Two issues remain major obsta-cles to negotiations for a three-year master contract, according to an analysis prepared by officials at the school department. They are the economic package, consisting of salaries and fringe benefits, and "absolute seniority," which now permits teachers to pick their own school assignments.

The school department has offered the teachers' union a wage-and-benefit package that will cost the city an estimated $70.4 million more over the next three years, according the the department's report. About $48.5 million of that increase would be used for "compounded" pay raises of 17.5 percent through 1986, the report explained.

For the same period, the union's economic demands would mean an additional $142.9-million, the report contends. About $88 million would be earmarked for teachers' pay raises, according to the report.

Union officials have criticized the department's analysis, contending that the school committee has not guaranteed teachers' raises in the second and third years of the contract and that the department's estimates reflect the cost of teachers' benefits that have existed for years. They also denied the department's charges that they have been stalling negotiations until after the November elections, when a new city mayor will be selected and the school committee will expand from five to 13 members--actions that are ex-pected to shift the balance of power toward the teachers.

Calling the school department's analysis "preposterous," Edward J. Doherty, the union president, said: "They know their proposals are unacceptable; they're trying to take away a large list of benefits and that will never be acceptable to the teachers."

"When they know it's totally unacceptable and they keep it," Mr. Doherty contended, "they're inviting this union to strike."

"We will not go a year without a contract," he asserted. "If we don't have a contract within the next two months we will have no other choice but to strike."

The school committee has argued that the teachers' previous three-year contract, which expired on Aug. 31, hampered the school system's ability to provide students with a "quality" education because it drew city funds away from program improvements.

Last year, Boston teachers had the highest average salary--$27,495 annually--of any major city in the country, according to the school department's figures. According to Mr. Forman, 75 percent of the system's 4,000 teachers are at the top of the pay schedule, but he conceded that the high rate is largely the result of recent layoffs of less-senior teachers.

The school department has offered the teachers' union a 3-percent raise in the first year of the contract and 5-percent raises for each of the two remaining years.

The union has demanded an 8-percent increase for each year of the contract, according to the department's report.

On seniority, the department is requesting what it terms "limited rights" for principals to select teachers on the basis of qualifications. School principals would be allowed to select one of three senior teachers who are qualified for the open position.

The school department has proposed continuing teacher benefits under the health and welfare fund but reducing the city's contribution because, according to the report, the fund now has a $7-million surplus.

The city's teachers are now required to be at work 15 minutes before classes begin; the school department wants up to five additional hours each month for inservice sessions and faculty meetings and two evenings a year for conferences with parents, the report explained.

The department is also seeking to increase the work schedule of teachers from 180 days to 182.5 days. "This would allow planning for the school year before opening day, as well as end the practice of deducting inservice training from students' class time," the report asserted.

Vol. 03, Issue 07

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