Boston teachers’ union holds walk-in to protest stalled contract negotiations

City signs pricey police union deal while teachers’ contract talks drag

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 3/15/2017, 9:43 a.m.
Teachers’ union negotiations has stalled while an expensive police union contract sailed through relatively briskly. The disparity in negotiating power ...
A few days after A Day Without a Woman, Boston teachers staged school-site protests, with members alleging that misogyny is behind city officials offering less favorable conditions to the female-dominated teachers’ union than officials did to a male-dominated union. Photo: Courtesy Boston Teachers’ Union

“Not having a binding arbitration process means that it [the teacher’s contract] just has to be negotiated, however long it takes,” Tyler said in a Banner phone interview.

In part, this can be problematic because contracts are one way the city secures reforms it wishes to see, Tyler said. The longer it takes to reach a deal on money and conditions, the longer it takes for any departmental changes to go through. In this year’s bargaining processes, it appears the city is pushing harder for the school department to make operational changes than it did for in the police department, Tyler said.

Arbitration also traditionally has produced highly favorable contracts for the BPPA in the past. The police secured their latest contract through arbitration in 2013, under which they received a 25.4 percent pay hike.

“This contract was overly generous,” stated the Boston Municipal Research Bureau in an online post. The Research Bureau post noted that BPPA’s contract terms had ripple effects — they established a precedent that other police unions, such as the Superior Officers and Superior Detectives, could refer to in their own bargaining the following year.

With the police securing pay increases of about 25 percent, detectives bargained through arbitration for 28 percent, Tyler said. Civilian unions, unequipped with that right, managed 12.6 percent increases, on average. Although in its last contract the BTU agreed to a similar level, traditionally they have been able to get somewhat more favorable terms than other civilian unions, Tyler said.

“I think [BTU]’s been successful [in negotiating in past]. Generally, teachers fare a little better than other civilian unions, but not better than public safety unions,” Tyler said.

The Boston Globe notes that while teachers can earn stipends from working summer sessions and extended schools days or from earning advanced degrees, police have greater income-boosting options such as working overtime and paid details.

Former City Councilor Chuck Turner, who served on the council from 2000 to 2010, said that in his experience, police and fire were able to secure higher pay than other unions, with arbitration abilities acting as a powerful tool.

“[Arbitration] was a major factor in their ability to leverage the higher wages.” Turner recalled in a Banner phone interview. “The police and fire people had much more impact. They are able to leverage the higher rates of pay in a way that the other unions aren’t able to. ... There’s a logic to funding police and fire well, but I felt they sometimes got more than their fair share.”

During Turner’s decade on the City Council, the state reduced its funding to municipalities from 30 percent to about 18 percent, Turner said. The way the city absorbed the new costs largely shielded the police department and hit teachers and administrators.

“The impacts were at times very severe on the school teaching and administrative population,” Turner said. “The police department didn’t suffer in the same way from those cuts.”

According to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance data, in the last two weeks of December 2016, a time when many donors max out their contributions to politicians, ten donors identifying themselves as police officers donated $1,900 to Mayor Martin Walsh. In that same period, just two people identifying themselves as BPS teachers donated $100 each to Walsh. The BPPA Political Action Committee had $369,709 in its coffers as of the Feb. 28 filing deadline with the state’s Office of Campaign and Political Finance. The BTU had $10,390 in the same filing period.