Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Volatility surrounds the unsettled Brunswick teachers’ contract

Hooooo-eeeee!  Have you been watching the news the last few days?  We seem to be entering into a ‘national dialogue,’ to put it mildly, on the compensation packages, including benefits and pensions, for public service employees, or as they like to be called, ‘public servants.’  Yah, sure.

It’s a little early to make the call, but just as we seem to be at an inflection point in international events, we could well be at a pivotal moment in the relationship between governments and public employee unions.  Things are heating up very quickly in a growing number of states.  Who knows when the lid might fly off here in our very own ‘quality of place’ state.  You can get some hints in a news report titled Hearings could get ugly.

If nothing else, this seems the perfect time to revisit the Brunswick teachers' contract left open ended last year during the annual budget exercise.

To get yourself back up to speed, please review this post of 8 months ago.  It describes how the school department ‘negotiated’ a two-year contract during the last budget cycle in which the specifics of the second year were left ‘TBD.’

The post included these closing words:

We’d be lying, however, if we said we don’t smell something amiss here.  Or denied that our officials look like patsies offering up a glass jaw for a second punch. 

If you think we’re wrong, or have proof confirming it, please chime in and let our readers know.

Until you do, or other facts come to light proving otherwise, we’ll go with the assumption that the teachers’ union has once again toyed with us, and that taxpayers will be compelled to fork over more and more of their diminishing assets, regardless of steep enrollment declines, an anemic economy, and completely unsustainable fiscal practices.  And that they’ve done so with detailed guidance from professional state and national union leadership that were preparing for just such a situation.

We should point out that in this post a few days ago, we failed to mention that there is a ‘known unknown’ in the school budget outlook, that being the outcome of ‘negotiations’ for the coming school year in the previously approved teachers’ contract.  Hey; don’t jump all over us.  We’re not the ones who agreed to a two year contract in which the second year was wide open.

By the way, a ‘senior school official’ predicted last fall that the open aspects of the contract would be wrapped up ‘by the first of the year.’  But that was before anyone in the union offices knew that the election outcome would be such a surprise.  Or what would be happening in the rest of the country; do the words ‘unions circling the wagons’ mean anything to you?

And don’t forget that negotiating guidance from the MEA to the districts declares that increases in health insurance costs should be covered by raises in salary, keeping in mind that the LePage budget reportedly addresses these issues.

In recent days we’ve contacted the Chair and Vice-Chair of the School Board, and our own School Board rep, to ask about the status of contract negotiations.  The first two didn’t respond at all; the latter did, but had nothing to offer in the way of information.

Our suspicions are that the message traffic between the NEA, the MEA, and the local teachers association is burning up the wires, literally, in real time, as push back expands nationwide, and that nobody in a position to do so wants to do anything until the LePage budget details are locked in place, which is probably a few months off.

In the midst of this discussion, we’d like to provide a bit of relevant background material.  Many years ago, we read a book about negotiating called “Winning Through Intimidation.”  Think of negotiating as two parties sitting at a table across from each other, each with chips on the table, hoping to reach agreement.

The author asserts there are only three types of people you will negotiate with.

Type 1 professes not to be after your chips, and believes that, but in the end, can’t help himself:  “I really didn’t mean to cut off your hand at the wrist, but I had no choice when you reached for your chips.”  Translation: Type 1 is sincerely sorry, but the result is the same as if he were glad.

Type 2 professes not to be after your chips, but knows inside that he is lying: “I really meant to cut off your hand at the wrist when you reached for your chips, even though I assured you that was never my intention.”  Translation:  Type 2 isn’t sorry because - in spite of what he may have told you – he never intended for you to get any goodies in the first place.

Type 3 makes it very clear up front that he intends to take all your chips:   “I really meant to cut off you hand at the wrist, and before you reached for your chips, you should have remembered my warning.”  Translation:  Type 3 isn’t sorry, because he warned you ahead of time how he plays the game.

The thesis is that in negotiations, the other party is ALWAYS after all your chips, and you’re better off doing business with Type 3, because at least they admit what they are after, and you know exactly what you are dealing with.

Now ask yourself just what it is the School Board goes into negotiations seeking and or hoping to accomplish.  Then ask yourself what it is the teachers’ association is seeking or hoping to accomplish.  Would you call this an even match?  Just for the  heck of it, how would you feel if servers in your favorite local restaurant wanted you to put your tip on the table before you even looked at a menu?  You may consider this bizarre, but it’s indicative of the teachers’ contracts we agree to, believe it or not.

And remember, no matter what else you hear, virtually no teacher went without a raise for this school year.  While they held off on a ‘general increase,’ all step increases were fully implemented.  If you don’t understand the difference, we need to explain to you how the contracts work.

So; what’s the betting line?  Will they go for a 6-8% general increase in the second year of the contract to make up for the lack of a general increase in the first year, and to provide a buffer for paying any possible cost share increase for their health care?  If I was their PR guy, which I’m not, I’d say bad idea. 

Better to go for 3-4% general increases in each of the two years, with a lump sum payment to retroactively cover the increase for this school year. That would sound ‘fairer,’ and the willing shills at The Ostrich and the rest will convince the public that this is ‘a modest increase, consistent with historic figures, and is only slightly more than the increase in the CPI.’ 

Even though the CPI has been more or less flat in recent years, but nobody will expect you to know that.

You can tell everyone you heard it here first, and when and if Side is proven right, we’ll give you several choices as to where you can buy us and the missus dinner.  Preceded by the icy sting of a classic martini, if you don’t mind.  Up, very, very dry, two olives and a twist.  Olives on a toothpick pointing to our right.

Not that we’re particular in such matters.

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