Homer Teachers Association members notched a big contract win earlier this year, negotiating long-sought maternity language, new stipends for coaching and advisory positions and healthy salary increases. Local leaders credit strong union solidarity, open communication and a positive labor/management relationship with the achievement. “My favorite part is that we started early,” said Robert Nasiatka, Homer TA president noting that 88 percent of the local’s 214 members voted yes. He explained that the negotiations team and administrators opened the contract a year in advance to hammer out hundreds of contract language changes before reaching the bargaining table. “It made the tougher parts of the negotiations, like money, go smoother,” he said.
Six months before formal talks began, the local formed committees to hear member concerns. “It gave everyone ownership in the process,” explained Nasiatka.
The early planning paid off. The team reached agreement after only two days of Facilitated Intensive Negotiations, a bargaining model in which both parties bring a targeted list of asks to the table with an eye toward reaching agreement within an intensive three-day negotiation period. The Homer TA’s new three-year contract includes annual raises of 6.5 percent, 5 percent and 4 percent. Negotiators also bargained eleven new paid coach and extracurricular positions. “We have many clubs running without stipends, sports with too few coaches and we wanted to get stipends for the music and arts department and science extracurriculars,” said Nasiatka.
With a growing roster of younger members, improved maternity leave was important. Under the old contract new parents could use six paid sick weeks, or eight paid sick weeks for cesarean section, for maternity leave. Any leave beyond that was unpaid and resulted in medical insurance rates rising to COBRA-like levels.
“You could apply to the union-administered sick leave bank for an extra week of paid sick leave, but you had to have a doctor’s note,” said Homer TA negotiations team member Karen Exelby. The new contract provides seven paid weeks of maternity leave, nine weeks for a C-section, and allows members to donate five sick days to the sick leave bank instead of one to keep it replenished. While the change isn’t perfect, but it’s a welcome improvement, said Exelby. “You just want to be home with your baby and not be forced to return … it’s hard to be your best if you’re exhausted.”
Nasiatka believes that in an era of teacher shortages the district realized it needs to stay competitive if they want to attract new teachers and retain current ones. “Credit has to go to a great team of negotiators … and great work done by our NYSUT labor relations specialist Deborah Lloyd-Priest,” he said. “We did not get everything we wanted, but we’re very happy.”