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“Securing Our Wins” Before the Pandemic Hit

Leaders of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Ansonia Federation of Teachers anticipated a short delay in final approval of their members’ new four-year union contract ratified in mid February. The local school board at the time was still mired in months-long electoral conflict and was not expected to take up the tentative agreement until it was resolved.
 
“This contract encourages teachers to stay in Ansonia,” Mat Hough, our local union president, said after members’ votes were initially tallied. “We took the time to finally fix the problems that have been a nuisance for years.”
 
Hough’s comments referred to a new wage scale replacing what had been cut back in earlier contract cycles. The local union’s negotiating committee proposed and won a structure that provides members the economic equivalent of progressing forward nearly five ‘steps’ under their previous pact.
 
“We have moved the entire pay scale up, making us far more competitive with other districts,” added Hough, who teaches music at Ansonia Middle School. 
 
Click here for the final draft of the agreement ratified in mid February.
 
Hough and the committee also won agreement on significantly cutting the cost of members’ insurance premium shares. Trading a higher deductible for a reduction in employee contributions, they succeeded in lowering families’ maximum expenses by at least $1500 annually.
 
Progress wasn’t limited to economics; they also secured additional professional learning time to perform curriculum work, plan for classroom lessons and grade student assignments.
 
Two weeks after ratification, the pandemic hit Connecticut. Town functions came to a halt and Ansonia’s board of education tabled further action until the contract was approved and counter-signed in late March.
 
“We needed some good news,” Hough observed when the agreement’s 30-day filing period with the board of alders expired a month later.
 
Click here for our announcement of the new contract at AFT Connecticut’s Twitter feed.
 
Having cleared its final hurdle, the contract was on July 1st finally in force.
 
Members of our WCMH United Employees union in mid March were prepared to cast their ballots on a tentative agreement for a new two-year contract. The in-person ratification vote for the service and skilled health professionals at Windham Community Memorial Hospital was scheduled, but days later the governor declared a public health emergency.
 
“Securing our wins became the priority,” local union president Heather Howlett (center in photo, right) explained. “We fought for months to bring back a package our members could be proud of — and a lot was at stake,” she added.
 
The agreement was won after contentious negotiations during which Hartford HealthCare (HHC)’s representatives sought to impose numerous concessions on hospital staff. Howlett and her fellow bargaining team members resisted a proposed merit pay scheme, a hike in employee health insurance costs and attempts to weaken existing contractual protections. 
 
“We fought back,” said Howlett, who works as a patient care technician in the emergency department at WCMH. “Management guaranteed general wage increases for all members, including those at top step, plus scale increases and adjustments.”
 
The committee also succeeded in restoring shift incentives lost in prior negotiating cycles and further won a premium incentive for preceptorships. They additionally won a boost in the base hourly wage for all members to $15.00, providing a nearly 50 percent raise for many and achieving a major policy objective.
 
Click here for more on our national union’s support for the “Fight for $15” movement.
 
With so much economic progress in their collective bargaining agreement, the decision to delay ratification was a difficult one.
 
“It was a tough call, but it was the right thing to do,” Howlett said. “We reached out to management to lock in a February effective date, and they agreed. That allowed us to focus on helping get our community through the peak of the pandemic,” she concluded. 
 
The rescheduled ratification finally took place in late May when members overwhelmingly voted in favor of the new agreement.
 
Click here for our announcement of the results at our Twitter feed. 
 
While both victories were delayed, strong contracts with economic security and workplace protections came at a critical time for members of both unions. Educators and school support staff face an uncertain future as state officials increase the pressure to resume in-person learning in the fall. Healthcare professionals at the same time concerned about a corresponding spike in coronavirus cases brace for a possible return to the surge conditions of last spring.
 
Eight additional local unions have since our previous report in January finalized ratification of successor contracts.
 
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