[ Fighting for you ]

Solidarity translates to contract win

By Kara Smith



olidarity, perseverance and patience paid off for the Nanuet Teachers Association this fall. After declaring a bargaining impasse shortly before their contract expired on June 30, the nearly 300 Rockland County teachers and teaching assistants banded together and got support from neighboring locals to fight for and win significant pay raises and benefits improvements.

When talks broke down, members began daily actions, wearing red garb, buttons emblazoned with “Fair Contract Now” and engaging in scheduled walk-ins. “We met at the flagpole outside the school building” and walked in as a group, said Lange. “Historically we haven’t had strong unity, but it was different this time, everyone was motivated to participate.”

A turning point came when local television station News 12 showed up unexpectedly during a walk-in and interviewed Lange. “The story played on a loop all day long,” she said. “It put pressure on the board, and made the community aware.”

The Nanuet community values its teachers and many residents were surprised by the educators’ pay in comparison to surrounding districts, Lange said. Nanuet teachers are the second lowest paid in the county, yet have the longest school year and day. “The community knows that retaining and attracting staff means we need to be competitive.”

When classes resumed in the fall, members began attending school board meetings en masse wearing red. The union also got a boost from surrounding locals. Thanks to a call to action by the Rockland County TA, an umbrella group of Rockland County union presidents, “almost every union president in the county showed up to a board meeting, and even some from Westchester County districts,” said Lange.

Parents attending the meeting spoke about the quality of district educators and urged the board to increase pay. A Nanuet resident who teaches in a neighboring district less than 10 miles away testified that his pay far outstrips Nanuet’s.

The pressure worked.

In late October the local approved a four-year contract that gave teaching assistants raises of 5, 3, 2 and 1.75 percent, and teachers increases of 3, 2, 1 and 1.75 percent. The agreement also eliminated the bottom two pay steps for teaching assistants, boosting starting salaries, and increased the district’s contribution for individual and family retiree health insurance.

As an added incentive for those who’ve been with the district at least 15 years, and have accumulated 100 sick days, the district will also contribute $40,000 toward health care until members qualify for Medicare, up to a cap of 80 percent of premium payments. “I had members tell me this will change their life,” said Lange, noting that under the old contract some retirees paid around $19,000 annually to maintain family coverage.

“This is a great example of the power of member organizing,” said Angela Pace, Nanuet’s NYSUT labor relations specialist. “Every time they organized to go to board meetings, their members showed up.The solidarity made a difference.”