Watertown Teachers Union Addresses Salaries, Parental Leave and Other Issues in Contract Negotiations

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Watertown teachers rallied in Watertown Square calling for settling their contract. Photo courtesy of Watertown Cable News / Maya Shwayder.

Watertown’s teachers spoke out about their desire for a “fair contract” during Monday’s School Committee, and responded to the statement from the School Committee about the negotiations made during the previous meeting.

The teachers contract has expired, and the teachers union — the Watertown Educators Association — has met more than a dozen times to discuss the contract with representatives from the Watertown Public Schools. Last week, to demonstrate their frustration with the negotiations teachers went to “work to rule,” where they only work contracted hours and duties, and would not do any volunteer work.

Few details have been released about the proposals from either side. On Monday, School Committee member Lindsay Mosca provided an update about the latest negotiating session on Feb. 6, when they got the WEA’s response to School officials’ latest proposal.

“We have not able to respond yet, but we look forward to meeting again next Monday on the 13th (of February) to continue to negotiate in good faith toward a lot of the same goals, in terms of fair compensation and other things that we hold important that the WEA does as well,” Mosca said. “It was productive, it was spirited, it was a good conversation, and we look forward to doing it again on Monday.”

The School Committee also heard the preliminary Fiscal Year 2024 budget presentation, in which district officials said the Watertown Public Schools face a shortfall of close to $1 million, due largely to increases in special education costs.

During the public forum, multiple educators, and some residents spoke in support of the WEA, asking for items such as pay that is competitive with neighboring districts, guaranteed parental leave for both parents, and they noted that nearly 40 percent of WEA members did not get any sort of pay increase this year, including veteran teachers.

This week, the Watertown Educators Association released a response to the School Committee’s statement read during the Jan. 23 meeting. The statement addresses many of the items raised during the School Committee meeting. See the Watertown Educators Association’s statement below:

Message from the Watertown Educators Association…

The Watertown Educators Association (WEA) and the School Committee have been in the process of contract negotiations since June of 2022. While these negotiations are taking place, all members of the WEA are currently working under an expired contract.

The Educators for the City of Watertown hold nothing higher than bringing the highest level of education to the families of this great city. To that end, the WEA and the School Committee continue to meet in good faith and have productive negotiating sessions to reach an agreement on a three-year successor contract. The most recent of these sessions was held on Monday February 6, 2023, and was the thirteenth such meeting.

The WEA is seeking a fair contract for all of their educators in order to provide the highest levels of education that the community has come to love and expect from the school system. Our teachers understand that a fair contract is not just for them, but for the families of Watertown as well. In fact, the most important outcome that the WEA hopes to achieve through these negotiations is a balanced and competitive contract to not only retain the great educators we already have in Watertown, but to attract the very best new educators to the city.

On January 23rd, 2023, Kendra Foley, the Watertown School Committee Chair released a statement providing an update pertaining to the ongoing negotiations. The WEA would like to offer some clarity to the community around many of the statements made by the School Committee.

School Committee Statement:

The Committee stated that during the past two cycles we began negotiations in January
and wrapped up by September. The Committee expressed their readiness to begin
negotiating in January 2022. The WEA requested that negotiations begin in late spring.
As such the first meeting occurred in early June.

WEA Response:

In January 2022 the WEA President was a retired WPS teacher. WEA elections were being held in May 2022. With the possibility of having a newly elected WEA President the WEA felt it would be irresponsible to change a key member of the negotiations team after the negotiations process had started. When the WEA elections were complete and there was clarity around who would hold office as WEA President the WEA reached out to the Committee to begin negotiations.

School Committee Statement:

The Committee stated that for many years, all Watertown teachers have had access to parental leave for up to eight weeks using accrued sick time. In addition, the Committee stated that we’ve made it clear to the WEA that we share the goal of expanding the existing parental leave benefits.

WEA Response:

It is true that all Watertown educators have had access to eight weeks of parental leave using accrued sick time. However, there is no language regarding paid protected leave guaranteed to educators in our expired contract. Educators new to the district have to work for three years without taking any sick days to accrue enough time to cover an eight week leave. Members who have not accrued enough sick time often return to work without any sick days remaining. Additionally, only the birthing parent can apply to our sick bank, therefore this benefit would not provide paid parental leave to non birthing parents. We, the WEA, believe that every parent, no matter the circumstance should have equal access to any parental leave benefit. Adding this benefit will attract educators to Watertown and help retain our current educators in Watertown. Competitive family leave policies have been agreed to in places such as Boston, Cambridge, Canton, Malden, & Somerville.

School Committee Statement:

The School Committee has currently proposed what they have described as a very competitive financial package to the WEA. The School Committee believes the current financial package is in-line, if not higher, than many of our comparable districts.

WEA Response:

The WEA recognizes that the School Committee is operating under a budgetary authorization from the city, however this is clearly not sufficient to meet the needs of Watertown Public Schools The WEA does not believe that Watertown needs to be compared to other districts. As Dr. Galdston has said to us at our opening day remarks, Watertown is the place to be and we could not agree more. We have built financial packages around this idea. If the school committee is making a comparison to neighboring districts, the majority of Watertown educators will actually earn less over the life of this contract as compared to many of our comparable districts. The WEA has responded with a fair counter proposal to the Committee’s latest offer given on January 23rd. We believe that our counter proposal provides a true competitive financial package that will attract new educators to Watertown as well as retain the dedicated professionals we already have in our schools.

School Committee Statement:

While it is true that the contract with the WEA has expired; most of the protections and all of the working conditions in the expired contract are still in effect. This includes any step and lane advancements that WEA members received at the start of this school year. It is important to note that 61% of the WEA members received a 3.5% increase by step movement this past September.

WEA Response:

It is true that 61% of members did receive a 3.5% increase to their base pay at the start of the year for moving up a step. However, it is important to clarify that this was not a raise, but instead an adjustment to the deferred compensation in earnings that alleducators agree to at the beginning of their careers in order to reduce costs for the school districts where we work. This also means that 39% of our members, all of our most veteran teachers who have likely given 15 years or more of service to Watertown, saw absolutely no adjustment in their annual compensation this year. The Committee has expressed that it values and respects educators and that the City of Watertown is extremely supportive of education. Valuing education means supporting those educators who breathe life into the beautiful new buildings in Watertown. Investing in educators lets us know that the Committee recognizes our hard work and dedication to the students of Watertown. With cost of living increasing almost 9% in the past year, Watertown educators have seen their real earnings substantially decrease after adjusting for inflation. If Watertown truly values educators, the city will support us by investing in our wages.

-Watertown Educators Association Negotiations Team

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