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Making Gains “That Weren’t Given to Us”

Teachers in Newtown Public Schools (NPS) last fall ratified a three-year collective bargaining agreement that is scheduled to take effect when their current contract expires on July 1. Members of the local union’s negotiating committee during talks with district officials made a number of significant advances, including overdue equity for veteran educators.
“We wanted to help members on ‘top step,'” said Tom Kuroski (fourth from left in photo, above), a science teacher and junior varsity softball coach at Newtown High School. He explained that raises for those with fifteen and more years of experience in the current agreement have been “smaller than for less senior members advancing along the step ladder.”
 
Kuroski added that the team successfully boosted pay for all members through a combination of step movement and general wage increases over the life of the contract. The nearly nine percent raises, along with an additional duty hourly rate hike and improved tuition reimbursement, represent solid economic progress for NPS’ approximately 430 certified educators.
 
“What we ended up winning was a little higher than other districts’ averages,” said Kuroski, who serves as president of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Newtown Federation of Teachers.
 
The team also succeeded in moving officials to codify 16 separate “memoranda of understanding” (MOU) for previously unrecognized bargaining unit positions. According to Kuroski, doing so “creates a fair playing field” for members currently holding those job titles, as well as for those applying for them in the future.
 
“Now that we’ve secured these positions, administrators will have to follow rules when filling them since they’ll be covered by our contract,” added Kuroski.
 
Click here for additional photos of members in October casting their ballots in the ratification vote.
 
Local Board of Education (BOE) members later that evening ratified the agreement, sending it off three weeks later to the town council where it won final approval. 
 
Click here for local press coverage of municipal officials approving the contract.
 
Skilled healthcare professionals at Rockville General Hospital (RGH) in mid December ratified a first collective bargaining agreement since forming their own local union. The landmark vote marked a significant milestone for the approximately 150 service, environmental, maintenance and other vital support staff at the acute care faculty.
 
For Irene Longley, a phlebotomist-lab aide at the hospital, the contract symbolizes how being union means “at least you have people with you” to help solve workplace problems. She added that before voting in November, 2018 to organize our affiliated Rockville General Hospital Skilled Service Employees United, they “were so alone.”
 
Click here for our previous report on members’ successful efforts to form their own union.
 
Longley and fellow negotiating committee members secured numerous provisions that for the first time establish fair workplace rules and procedures for the bargaining unit. They include “just cause” standards of conduct for disciplinary action or termination of employment, as well as an additional step of mediation in the “grievance” procedure.
 
Tamika Gilhooly, a secretary in the hospital’s emergency department, said that the gains made in their contract — particularly those of an economic nature — were the product of tough negotiations. “They weren’t given to us,” she said.
 
Gilhooley, Longley and the rest of the team won general wage increases of nine percent over the three-year term of the agreement. They also secured ratification bonuses for all members, including for those employed on a part-time and per diem basis.
 
The raises get the workforce closer to “what we’re worth,” added Gilhooly, who also serves as the local union’s vice president. They begin a process of lifting the facility’s skilled healthcare professionals closer to parity with their counterparts at the employer’s other acute care facility, Manchester Memorial Hospital (MMH).
 
Click here for photos of members ratifying their first union contract.
 
The new agreement, which was effective immediately, also includes a process for fairly removing past disciplinary reports from employees’ personnel files, as well as improvements to language regarding transfers.
 
The bonds between these two local unions— which at first glance appear to be quite different — go beyond recent contract wins. Our Newtown teachers were in 2017 recognized at our state federation’s annual convention with an anniversary citation honoring their fifty years of advocacy and service. Leaders of the skilled service health professionals at Rockville Hospital were two years later recognized for their successful organizing drive with AFT Connecticut’s “Unionist of the Year” awards. 
 
Members of three additional local unions had reacted tentative agreements with their employers on successor contracts as this report was being finalized.
 
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