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Manchester school board, union head back to bargaining table

New Hampshire Union Leader

January 16. 2018 11:44PM

MANCHESTER — City aldermen voted Tuesday night to reject the recommendations of a fact finder report involving ongoing talks between school board members and a local union, sending both parties back to the bargaining table.

After reaching an impasse during negotiations, the Board of School Committee and the Directors and Coordinators Union went to fact finding. At the Dec. 11, 2017, school board meeting, committee members voted to refuse the recommendation of the fact finder report, while union membership voted to accept the report in a subsequent vote — thus sending the matter to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen for a decision.

The current collective bargaining agreement between the school board and the union expired on June 30. During prior negotiations, both parties agreed to a wage increase limited to the Cost Of Living Adjustment (COLA) under the city’s Charter, and a $500 increase in the retirement supplement for employees who have 20 years of continuous service and who give notice of their intent to retire by Jan. 1.

There was also an agreement for the school board to contract for a pay and classification study for the positions covered under the bargaining unit.

Human Resource Partners LLC of Maine (HRP) performed the study, and issued a report May 18, 2017. The union and school board met May 30, with board members stating there was no money in the budget to fund any wage increases for employees in the bargaining unit. The union declared an impasse, and invoked the fact finding process, with both parties agreeing the fact finder’s recommendations would be limited to a single issue — wages.

The Directors and Coordinators Union covers 17 positions in the school district, but just 12 employees due to five current vacancies.

A key recommendation of the HRP report is that the bargaining unit positions should be classified into four grades, Grades 6 to 9, with each grade encompassing specific job titles with a 30 percent pay range from minimum to maximum.

The HRP report shows there are four positions within the bargaining unit that are paid below the minimum recommended hourly wage — while seven are paid above the same threshold. The fact finder report recommends bringing the four employees up to the HRP minimum recommended salary on July 1, 2018.

The report also states the school board should not expect any members of the bargaining unit to lose wages, and all members should have their wages increased by the COLA as measured and used by the school department.

“The Union cannot live in a vacuum,” reads the fact finder report. “They must be realistic and practical about what the school department can afford and is willing to do.”

School board member John Avard of Ward 10 attended the meeting to explain his board’s unanimous vote to reject the report.

“There were no concessions back to the school district,” said Avard. “This was very one-sided towards the employees. The school board understands there are some inequities here and they very much wish they could take corrective action.”

“This is the breaking news of the century — the school board voted unanimously for something,” said At Large Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur.

“The school board rejected this unanimously because of the amount it would raise the salary line next year,” said Avard. “It’s a 7.4 percent salary line increase — that’s a dramatic increase in a single year. If we were to try and offer that to other unions across the board, there’s no way we could stay under the tax cap.”

Aldermen voted to reject the report, which sends both parties back to the bargaining table.

Education Labor Local and County Government Manchester

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