Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jun
  • 15

Union teachers authorize strike vote; hope diocese presents new offer

Posted By June 15, 2017 | 12:39 pm | Lead Story #1
Central Catholic schools teachers protest outside the Chancery building Thursday afternoon. 
Photo by Tanya Connor
Central Catholic schools teachers protest outside the Chancery building Thursday afternoon. Photo by Tanya Connor

By Tanya Connor  | The Catholic Free Press

Teachers from the union representing the diocese’s four central Catholic schools voted to authorize a strike vote Thursday, according to Kathryn Harris, union president.
Union members will reconvene Aug. 27 to learn if there are any new proposals from the diocese, she said. If they are not satisfied, they could take a vote at that meeting to strike.
Ms. Harris said that between now and Aug. 27 the union’s negotiating team will work with the diocese to see if they can come up with a new proposal. They hope the diocese will present them with a financial offer, she said.
She said they took the vote at a meeting they held on the sidewalk after marching in front of the Chancery offices on Elm Street Thursday afternoon.
There were more than 50 people protesting, some carrying signs calling for “Justice & Dignity.” Some waved signs at passing motorists, a number of whom honked in  support.  After the hour-long protest, they held their meeting right on the sidewalk.
“We’ve exhausted every other option,” Ms. Harris said earlier this week. She said they’ve made several proposals that the diocese has rejected, they’ve demonstrated outside the Chancery, written to Bishop McManus and tried unsuccessfully to meet with him.
Delma L. Josephson, diocesan superintendent of schools, who has been meeting with union representatives, said Tuesday that she would not comment on negotiations, which are continuing.
Following Thursday’s protest, a detailed statement was posted on the diocesan website.
“Everyone wants to be able to compensate teachers and all our employees to the best of our ability,” said the statement attributed to Superintendent Josephson and Raymond L. Delisle, diocesan spokesman.
It said that although official raises have not been possible, there were step increases or bonuses, in all but two of the last 12 years, which kept ahead of the cost of living. Other listed benefits included health insurance; free tuition for employees’ children, and an employer match for a defined contribution retirement plan.
“Our ability to offer additional salary increases over the past few years has been hampered” by enrollment instability and an inability to adequately meet a growing need for financial aid, among other things, the response said.
It mentioned efforts to increase enrollment, reduce overhead and market benefits of a Catholic education. It expressed pride in STEM and STREAM curricula, small class sizes and providing an environment where students can be formed in their faith.
Like Catholic school teachers, other Church employees aren’t paid at private or public sector levels, the response said.
IMG_1061
Diocesan Educators Lay Teachers Association (DELTA), represents 101 out of 105 teachers and guidance counselors in the central Catholic schools, Ms. Harris said. In 1985 lay teachers in the central Catholic schools voted to unionize and chose DELTA as their  bargaining unit in February 1986.
The central Catholic schools are: Holy Name Central Catholic Junior/Senior High, St. Peter-Marian Central Catholic Junior/Senior High and St. Peter Central Catholic Elementary, all in Worcester, and St. Bernard’s Central Catholic High in Fitchburg.
Teacher salaries include steps and cost-of-living increases, Ms. Harris explained. She said the general reason given for why teachers aren’t getting consistent step and cost-of-living increases is that “there’s no money.”
The last time the teachers got a cost-of-living increase was a 3 percent increase for the 2008-2009 school year, according to a list on the union website worcesterdelta.yolasite.com. It says they also advanced a step that year. A step increase is $1,537.
Negotiations between DELTA and the diocese some years ago set 19 steps for salaries, starting at $33,990 the first year for employees with a bachelor’s degree, and ending with $61,660 their 19th year, according to a chart on the website. Individuals with a master’s degree start at $36,490 the first year and should get $64,160 their 19th year.
“It’s expected that every year you get a step,” Ms. Harris said. “It just reflects one more year of service…and experience.”
But some years salaries have not been moved up to the next step, she said, so it takes more than 19 years to reach the top.
The salary history provided by DELTA shows that several times teachers have agreed to accept years with no step increases and/or cost-of-living increases. Some of those years the diocese or the union has provided bonus payments.
For example, in the 2009-2010 school year the diocese asked DELTA to give up both the step and cost-of-living increases, and DELTA voted to do so. They did this to bail out the financially strapped schools, Ms. Harris said. She said that year $500 was added to the base salary of each step.
For the 2010-2011 school year DELTA again voted not to take the step or cost-of-living increases, but teachers got a one-time $1,500 bonus, almost equal to a step increase.
A chart on DELTA’s website gives the history since then.
2011-2012: no step increase, no cost-of-living increase;
2012-2013: step increase, no cost-of-living increase but top step teachers received a one-time bonus of $500 from DELTA;
2013-2014: step increase, no cost-of-living increase but a one-time bonus of $500 from the diocese to those on the top step;
2014-2015: step increase, no cost-of-living increase;
2015-2016, step increase, no cost-of-living increase.
Negotiations for salaries for the 2016-2017 school year started last June, Ms. Harris said. She said sometimes no salary proposal is made before the school year starts, and this year the diocese asked DELTA to wait until January. When they met in February the diocese said there would be no financial package, which means no salary increase, Ms. Harris said.
Negotiations have not yet started for the 2017-2018 school year, she said.
Some years union members have said their compensation is insufficient, but they could handle it, but this year they’ve said it’s too difficult, she said.
Ms. Harris is in her 16th year teaching Spanish at Holy Name. She said she doesn’t think anyone ever wants to take such a drastic measure as striking, but the teachers are willing to do something difficult if it will make things better for everyone in the long run.
Because of insufficient compensation, teachers have given up vacations and taken additional jobs to make ends meet, and have seriously considered leaving the teaching job they love, said Ms. Harris.
But, she said, “It’s not just about us.” It’s about the students and the schools.
The average salary of central Catholic school teachers is $50,000, according to a chart on the website. Comparing the average salaries in 19 nearby school districts, the next lowest is more than $60,000, the highest is close to $80,000.
“We’re not expecting to make what teachers in the public schools make,” but want to be fairly compensated, Ms. Harris said. “We want to be able to attract and retain the best teachers because we think that’s the best way to secure a healthy future for these schools. We want our future students to continue to benefit from the expertise of highly qualified teachers.”
“I’m here for the future of the Catholic schools,” Brett Penza, a Holy Name technology instructor, told The Catholic Free Press as the protest ended. “We can’t hold on to the young teachers because we don’t offer a competitive wage.”

After the protest Thursday, the Diocese posted a question-and-answer response to the teachers’ concerns. It can be found at http://worcesterdiocese.org/news/qa-regarding-central-catholic-school-teacher-negotiation.