Local Associations stand up for themselves, despite pushback from school boards

More than ever educators are using their collective voice to improve their working conditions and their livelihoods. Members from local unions across the state are banding together for change, and their efforts are working.

The power of the Union is not new, but what is new is the nationwide approval for labor unions which is the highest it’s been since 1965 at 71%, according to a recent Gallup poll. Poll respondents said their most important reasons for joining were better pay and benefits, employee representation, and job security. Here in Maine, those core union values are among the top issues members are fighting for and winning in our local communities. And for the ongoing fights, members are not backing down as they continue to push for what they deserve.

On the following pages are the stories of local unions advocating for themselves and their students, and the media attention they’re getting that’s helping move the message.

Ed Techs and Secretaries Stand Ground and Win

Support Staff in MSAD 51 stood their ground for months while they worked without a contract, and only settled after they received what they deserved. Ed techs and secretaries were without a contract since June of 2022. After organizing their members, and attending every school board meeting, collectively the teachers stood together with their support staff, and everyone spoke out in favor of supporting a contract that provided ed techs and secretaries with the compensation they deserved.

After the local union’s actions, which also included garnering attention from the media for their cause, the union secured an agreement that is approximately $240,000 higher than the school board’s last offer. The new contract includes raises for the next three years equaling 6%, 4% and 3% with a $2 differential for special education ed techs and functional life skills ed techs beginning in the second year of the contract. In addition, the ed techs and secretaries will receive full back pay for the time they worked without a contract, which is almost the whole school year.

Beyond pay, the Union worked hard to secure improved working conditions. Ed techs and secretaries will now have just cause in their contract for letters of reprimand, meaning the employer must have a reason to discipline and that reason must be just and fair. This is a brand-new addition to the contract and is crucial for fair employment practices. Restrictions around personal leave were also removed and paid parental leave was added to the contract.

Lisbon Fights for Local Leader and New Contract

The Lisbon Education Association filed a grievance on behalf of LEA president and Chief Negotiator Rick Beaule who was not offered a continuing teaching contract. Beaule’s removal comes as he led his local during a difficult contract negotiation period. The LEA maintains the decision not to offer a continuing contract to Mr. Beaule is based more on his success as a union leader and not at all on his teaching expertise.

Mr. Beaule, according to district policy, received a teacher evaluation for his work as a music teacher; that evaluation earned him the second highest rating on the evaluation scale. According to the evaluation handbook, “teachers who receive a summative rating of applying have successfully completed their performance review and will continue their professional growth work on a self-directed improvement plan in a three-year cycle.” Mr. Beaule met this evaluation mark, and should now be placed on a continuing contract, instead the District chose to let him go after just two years of successful employment.

The LEA believes this action is directly related to his union work and is punitive in nature. Due to this retaliation against Mr. Beaule, the LEA also filed a prohibited practice complaint (PPC), stating the Lisbon School Department violated the Maine Labor Relations Act when it didn’t renew Mr. Beaule’s teaching contract due to his union activity. The legal action can take months to resolve.

Family Health Insurance Worth the Fight

Educators in Falmouth refused to accept a proposal from the School Board that included cuts to their benefits, and the Falmouth Education Association worked to reject any cuts in their existing contract. The Union held multiple rallies, started a petition, worked to get media attention, showed up at school board meetings refusing to settle for less than what they deserved. In addition to the proposed cut to spousal insurance, also did not offer raises that keep up with. with inflation.

Nathan Hall, the local’s vice president, said to NewsCenter:

“I do feel like it is misguided … It feels like we are not being valued when we’re not being offered wage increases that are in line with inflation and they’re trying to cut spousal insurance.”

After the continued unified voice from the local Union, and a successful mediation, Falmouth teachers settled the contract. The deal came with ZERO cuts to health Insurnace and contract raises of 6%, 5%, and 5% over the next three years. Standing firm in their beliefs and working together paid off!

Cape Elizabeth Teachers Fight Against Takebacks and Win

Teachers in Cape Elizabeth fought back against a health insurance takeback that included removing spouses from the insurance plan if they could receive insurance elsewhere. Teachers refused this proposal as it could end up amounting to a pay cut if members had to pay more for insurance through a different employer.

The Cape Elizabeth Education Association made their displeasure known, rallying outside the school, attending every school board meeting, and explaining why the District should value their educators. The organizing efforts paid off and the teachers settled a new contract which did not include any cuts to insurance and included raises for the next three years that amounted to 6% in the first year and 5% in the following two years.

SAD 6 Educators and Parents Fight For Books for All Students

Educators in SAD 6 refused to accept book bans in their schools and came together with parents to stand up to the school board’s decision to remove books from the school library shelves. The removal of the books, that support LGBTQ+ students, came after a push by a group working its way around the state targeting school libraries and librarians.

The removal of the books by the Board came without discussion from the community, and that’s where the educators disagreed—citing a proper removal process for the books was not followed. The teachers, support staff, and community members claimed victory when the School Board decided to put the books back on the shelves as they continued to discuss if they are appropriate for the library.

Milford Teachers Win After Long Contract Dispute

Teachers in Milford refused to accept a new contract that made them feel disrespected. For months, they informed the community through a series of actions, rallies, social media campaigns, speaking out at school board meetings and more to garner support for their cause. In addition to an 11.8% raise over the next three years, teachers received back pay on that raise to the beginning of the school year. The union also shortened the length of the scale and created a more equitable scale to reduce the disparity from one year of experience to the next.

One Year Fight For New Contract Ends in Win for Teachers

Teachers at Thornton Academy, who were among the lowest paid in the area, never backed down even after nearly a year of working without a contract. The Thornton Academy Teachers Association worked tirelessly to unite their members and join in collective actions that helped move the school’s Board of Trustees, who refused to increase pay for the teachers.

The local union formed an action committee and showed solidarity in multiple ways including wearing the same color shirts, walking in together at the start of the contract day, attending union rallies, and more. The Union used social media and the local news to its advantage sharing details of their pay and benefits to garner community support.

The Union started a petition to help local parents understand the issues the teachers face. The petition received more than 1,500 signatures with all who signed telling the Board of Trustees they believed teachers in Thornton deserved a better contract. For every signature on the Thornton TA petition, the Board of Trustees received an email, flooding the inboxes of Trustees for months. Their actions and community support drove the Trustees to agree to mediation which led to a settlement.

After a full year of negotiations, Thornton teachers have a new contract which includes an average individual increase of about $7,100 for 2022-23 and the next two years, new language around earned paid leave and family medical leave, and the addition of ELL and counselors to the bargaining unit. Trustees at Thornton originally offered a 0% pay increase for each of the three years of the contract.

More Contract Wins

Auburn Food Service workers reached agreement on a new 3-year contract which includes an increase in the ability to make up to 5 days lost to school cancellations, increases in pay, additional days off, reduction in the cost of health insurance, annual longevity stipends, reduction in probation time, and more.

Bus Drivers MSAD 11 With an engaged and empowered team of bus drivers in MSAD 11, the union negotiated increased longevity stipends, uniform allowances, a few substantial language improvements, and an overall 32% wage increase over the term of the two-year contract.

Carrabec EA (RSU 74, Anson) Teachers negotiated a cost of living of 4%, 3% and 3%, and cut 5 steps off the scale. The local also received major gains in the amount the District pays towards health insurance, including 100% single coverage. Teachers will now also receive contracted prep time, which is now a permissive subject of bargaining thanks to a law MEA helped pass in a previous legislative session.

MSAD 53 EA, (RSU 53, Pittsfield) ESP received a wage increase of 6% in year one and 5% in year two. The local increased their grievance submission deadline from 15 to 30 days. Members secured just cause language for discipline for non-probationary employees, and added Juneteenth as a paid holiday, if the school year goes beyond or abuts the holiday.

RSU 19 EA ratified an MOA for their teachers providing them an additional hourly payment whenever they are asked to substitute teach, in addition to their regular duties.