Teaching Profession

After Lengthy Impasse, Buffalo Teachers Seeking New Labor Pact

By Denisa R. Superville — October 11, 2016 2 min read
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Teachers’ union and school officials in the Buffalo, N.Y., district are hoping to hammer out a new labor agreement to replace one that expired a dozen years ago.

A new pact would bring an end to one of the longest-running labor impasses in recent memory between a school district and a teachers’ union in New York state, where public employees, including teachers, are legally barred from going on strike. It would also likely soften residual acrimony stemming from a wage freeze that ended in 2007.

Though concerns about a possible strike have grown, both the Buffalo Teachers Federation and district officials are optimistic they can reach a deal this fall without teachers walking off the job as they did in 2000.

“We are going to do our best,” said Philip Rumore, the union president, adding that he is aiming to take a new proposal to his roughly 3,600 members on Oct. 17. “I think the superintendent wants to settle this. I want to settle this. I think they realize that the teachers are angry.”

Talks broke down last month when Rumore walked away from a district proposal he called “insulting.” But last week, Kriner Cash, the superintendent of the 32,000-student district, called Rumore to restart discussions.

The union and district remain divided on a number of issues, including wage increases, extending the school day, and health-care contributions.

The district proposed a 10 percent increase in the salary schedule once the contract is approved and a 3 percent increase in 2017-18.

The union wants a larger bump, arguing that district’s proposed hike would still leave Buffalo teachers among the lowest paid in Erie County. The union also wants more money to go to veteran teachers and is not in favor of extending the school day, unless the added time includes professional development for teachers.

The district also proposed that teachers pay 10 percent of their health-insurance premiums, which the district picks up in full now.

The union doesn’t object to its members chipping in toward premiums, but balks at the use of a fixed percentage to determine the amount.

The district has also proposed removing seniority as a determining factor in staffing decisions.

Nathaniel Kuzma, the deputy general counsel for Buffalo schools, said the district’s offer was “fair, competitive, and generous.” The district has also said its proposal would have a less severe impact on the district’s $191 million surplus fund than would the union’s requests.

“We are not operating under that timeline,” Kuzma said of the union’s planned Oct. 17 meeting. “But our intention is to try to reach an agreement that is beneficial to teachers, as well as students and the community at large, as quickly as we possibly can.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 12, 2016 edition of Education Week as Labor Dispute Simmering In Buffalo, N.Y.

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