Applying "Lessons Labor History Has Shown Us"

Counselors and support staff at the American School for the Deaf (ASD) in West Hartford in early September ratified an agreement on a strong successor contract. Their union's negotiating committee made numerous gains, particularly on the economic front, for the approximately 125 teacher aides (TAs), administrative assistants (AAs), clinical occupational therapist assistants (COTAs) and residential counselors (RCs) serving ASD's students.
  
According to veteran RC and bargaining team member Dean Karabetsos, among the most significant victories in their new two-year collective bargaining agreement is "pay equity" for TAs.
 
"Our student body has changed over the past 20 years,” he said, adding that "today we serve more with special needs who require much more attention and support. Bringing up teacher aides' pay helps address that challenge," added Karabetsos, who serves as vice president of our affiliated West Hartford Federation of Residential Counselors.
 
Click here for a recent local news report on ASD's history.
 
Under the new contract, pay rates for TAs are boosted for the current and each of the following two years until they achieve parity with RCs. Their colleagues all won wage increases for the term of the agreement, as well, through a step movement in the first and a general increase in the second year.
 
Karabetsos and the team additionally secured a three-fold boost to members' tuition reimbursement benefit. They further maintained healthcare coverage with no hikes in employees' premium cost share at a time when the non-profit sector is experiencing average annual increases of nearly 15 percent.
 
Click here for photos of teacher aides last month casting their ballots in the ratification vote.
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The day after ASD’s support staff wrapped up five days of voting, faculty at Mitchell College in New London approved an agreement won by their local union's negotiating committee (in photo, above, with AFT Connecticut Field Representative Mary Richardson, at left). The three-year contract contains many of the members' priority proposals, including hard-won pay increases for the private higher education institution’s 19 professors.
 
"The most significant thing we did was get administration to move on salaries," said Jennifer O’Donnell, M.A. (far right, in photo), who serves as president of our affiliated Mitchell College Faculty Federation. "We came a little closer to what we wanted in negotiations," she added.
 
O'Donnell, an associate professor in the college's Humanities Department, added that the committee benefitted from a clear understanding "of what the whole unit wanted" before engaging in talks with management. She said that empowered the team to "go in and fight for it — as I believe we did — for the benefit of all, not just a few."
 
Local union treasurer and Humanities Department assistant Jeffrey O'Leary, Ph.D. (second from right, in photo), echoed O'Donnell's sentiment, saying the team recalled "the lessons labor history has shown us." 
 
O'Leary added, "if you don't fight for it, management will walk all over employees."
 
In addition to general wage increases for each year of the new agreement, the committee extracted a ratification bonus for their colleagues and an extension on their retirement package. They additionally evened the playing field for faculty promotions by codifying established baseline salaries.
 
Click here for additional photos from the mid September ratification vote.
 
The contract’s economic gains continue the previous negotiating cycle’s trend of improving benefits and strengthening protections for the local's membership. They represent real progress for the college's professional faculty who, like so many in the non-profit sector, in the aftermath of the 2008 recession struggled to hold their ground.
 
In addition to these two important victories, nine other affiliated local unions notched wins for their members since our previous collective bargaining report. Seven reached and ratified successor contracts and two participated in a labor coalition's talks that produced a memorandum of understanding (MOU) governing workplace conditions.