Nearly 100 CEA members representing schools throughout the state came together on Saturday, February 1, to learn new ways of organizing fellow teachers in their locals for better working and learning conditions, fairer salaries, and a more secure retirement.
“I appreciate your stepping up for your members,” CEA President Jeff Leake told teachers at CEA’s Negotiations Conference: Different Bargaining Strategies for Better Results. “Our members are more powerful today than in the past.”
Noting that public school educators have exerted enormous political influence and grassroots strength around the country, from the bargaining table to the halls of Congress, Leake pointed out that Connecticut is one of the most teacher-friendly states and currently boasts one of the most education-friendly Congressional delegations in the U.S.
“We want to keep them there, so it’s important that we all get involved in NEA’s Strong Public Schools 2020 campaign.”
‘Success is not an accident’
For elementary school teacher and Hampton Education Association treasurer Chrissy Stone, the day of CEA’s Negotiations marked her inaugural day as HEA’s president.
“We are a very small school and union,” said Stone, “which makes us somewhat unique. I have done negotiations, but teachers retiring means we have a new negotiations team. Starting somewhat from ground zero, I’m here to learn how to develop new strategies.”
Stone was encouraged by her CEA UniServ Rep, Steve Ozga, to come to the conference to share her experience as well as learn from others.
Joseph Bernabucci, an East Hartford organizer and social studies teacher who has served on his association’s negotiations team, came with colleague Mary White, a first-grade teacher and the East Hartford Education Association grievance chair.
“We’re here to build on what we have, pick up new skills, and get more involved,” Bernabucci said.
UniServ Reps Justin Zartman and Tom Kennedy gave an overview of various local associations’ recent successes at the bargaining table and in persuading boards of education, town councils, and the communities they represent to invest in teachers and public education. After involving all members in determining goals, establishing a transparent goal-setting process, and changing ground rules that don’t fit those goals and needs, many Connecticut locals, including the following, have made better-than-expected gains:
- West Hartford recently achieved higher-than-average salary settlements and improvements in health insurance after attending all board of education meetings and sending member updates after each negotiating session.
- Waterbury faced an arbitration that awarded a zero-percent salary increase in 2018. Hundreds of teachers organized, and in 2019, the Waterbury Teachers Association secured a significant increase, a contract extension, and the first ratifiable contract in decades.
- East Haven teachers came away from the bargaining table with the first ratifiable contract in 20 years after RedforEd campaigning, informational picketing, and massive board of education attendance.
- Danbury teachers, in addition to attending board of ed and town council meetings, added a social media component to the mix, as well as collective walk-ins and walk-outs, with 75 percent of teachers participating in at least one activity. They were able to protect their health benefits and secure step movement in all years.
- Berlin teachers refused to let failed mediation keep them from their goals. They stepped up their RedforEd campaign, walked out at the end of their contractual day, and through perseverance and solidarity, achieved a ratifiable agreement.
“These are not accidents,” said Kennedy. “Success is not an accident. It doesn’t start at the negotiating table. It starts with organizing. It comes from being prepared, working hard, and planning.”
Darien Education Association President Joslyn Delancey agreed. “This doesn’t just happen over a three-month period, from negotiations to ratification. The negotiations process needs to be embedded into the work we do throughout the year, which gives us a clearer vision and makes it easier to build relationships with our board of education and other decision-makers.”
“We just finished negotiations and wrapped up our contract,” said Darien building rep Katy Gale. “We achieved some good things, and now we want this interim period to be a time of building and gathering the right tools for negotiating our next contract.”
Montville Education Association President Jenny Natale said this will be her first time negotiating.
“I’m here to learn as much as I can.”
Her district’s negotiations chair, Mary Aledia, added, “We’re going into a negotiating year, and the process needs to change. We have to motivate members and get them more involved for a better outcome.”
“We negotiated last year,” said Marilyn Dellarocco, Cooperative Education Services (CES) Vice President for Negotiations. “I’m here to learn how to negotiate when you’re in a RESC and how to plan ahead for that.” Regional Education Service Centers, or RESCs, are partnerships of neighboring school districts. “Our representative council has members from 14 different boards of education,” says Dellarocco, “so it’s different. We’re looking at doing pre-meetings and surveying members throughout the year to see what their issues and priorities are and to sift through and find some of the global concerns.”
Dellarocco participated in a workshop on bargaining for the common good, which looked at ways of identifying and including various education stakeholders—parents, community members, business professionals, and others—in creating proposals with strong community buy-in. Participants learned how a local teachers union from a blue-collar, high-poverty former mill town in New England deployed the strategies of bargaining for the common good to win a transformative contract that benefited teachers and students alike.
If you were not able to attend the conference, additional training is available to all CEA members through CEA’s Professional Learning Academy as well as at the upcoming Early Educators Conference, which is especially helpful for teachers in their first six years—but is open to all members, regardless of experience. The annual event draws new and veteran teachers alike and has much to offer to educators at every point in their careers.