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Pittsfield School Committee OKs Unions' Higher Pay
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
04:13AM / Friday, September 09, 2022
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The School Committee has passed memoranda of agreements for four bargaining units that include "substantial increases."

During a special meeting on Thursday, MOAs for the 2021-2022 school year and the 2022-2025 school years were unanimously approved for bus drivers and attendants, cafeteria workers, paraprofessionals, and educational secretaries.

The unions are represented by the Pittsfield Federation of School Employees, a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers.

On behalf of the negotiating team and the whole committee, Chair William Cameron expressed that they are "extremely gratified" with the agreements and hope to settle with the custodial units soon.

"We've recognized partly through the urging of the employees and partly through the realities of the employment market that we are making major salary agreements here, major increases in the compensation paid to the members of these units, and that we're doing so gladly," he said.

"We've had some difficult negotiations over the past 12 months, 12 1/2 months, and some of those difficulties were aired in public, were criticized in public, and I'm delighted that we have been able at this point to reach agreements that will not only benefit our employees going forward but there will also benefit the employees when we've reached the settlements with retroactively."

He noted that the 2021-2022 MOA will result in retroactive pay based on its salary schedule, which he feels is fair for those who have continued to work through negotiations, retired in the period, or worked through the end of the year.

Bus drivers start at $22.65/hour in the 2022-2023 school year and bus attendants start at $17/hour in the 2022-2023 school year with a 50-cent increase each year until 2024.  The 2021-2022 MOA stipulates that bus drivers start at $22.15/hour and bus attendants start at $16.50/hour.

Cafeteria workers’ starting wages in the 2022-2023 school year range from $15.50/hour to $22.01/hour depending on position and increase by 50 cents each year until 2024.  The 2021-2022 MOA sets starting wages between $15.00/hour to $21.51/hour depending on the position.

Paraprofessionals’ step one pay in the 2022-2023 school year ranges from $16.50 to $19.50 based on qualification and increases by 50 cents each year until 2024.  The 2021-2022 MOA step one pay ranges from $16/hour to $19/hour based on qualification.

Educational secretaries’ step one pay ranges between $17.53/hour and $22.69/hour based on qualification and position in the 2022-2025 school year and increases by two percent each year until 2024.  The 2021-2022 MOA sets step one pay ranges between $17.19/hour and $22.30/hour based on qualification and position.

Prior to the negotiation, members of the AFT had been publicly demanding higher wages, especially during budget season.

"Tonight I'm here to say I'm angry, very angry, I'm angry that today we're no closer to settling this contract than we were seven months ago. I'm angry because me, my staff, and co-workers continuously, we're short-staffed because we cannot get employees to work at this wage," cafeteria worker Debi Rooney said during the School Committee's review of the fiscal 2023 budget in March.

"I'm angry because the [cafeteria] keeps losing very good longtime employees because of the low pay, I'm angry because when we're short-staffed, I'm told, 'Well you might have to just cut things off the menu' and who does that affect? That hurts the children," she said.

"Why should I not feed them the full menu because I don't have enough employees to get the food out that's on the menu?  I'm angry because you say you don't have the money to pay us a livable wage, but we all know that's a big fat lie, it's a big, fat lie."

According to the cafeteria staff's 2018-2021 contract, in 2020-2021 cook managers for elementary school started at $15.57 an hour, cook managers for high/middle school at $16.32, bakers at $13.59, and cafeteria helpers at $12.81. 
 
Thursday's vote was taken in open session but all negotiations were done in executive session because it was believed that an open meeting may have a detrimental effect on the bargaining position of the public body.

"I would simply like to say before we adjourn that I want to express my sincere thanks to all the employees and all of these units who have patiently waited for these negotiations to reach a conclusion. I hope that they find that these agreements are in fact satisfactory. I guess the fact that they all voted to accept them, all four bargaining units in question have voted to accept the MOAs is is indicative of that but I do want to thank these employees for their patients," Cameron said.

"This has been a rather grueling experience for everyone and certainly for the members of your bargaining teams, it has been. I also want to express my hope that in very short order, we will have reached an amicable agreement with the custodial personnel so that all of the members of the Pittsfield Federation of School Employees will have new contracts, improved working conditions, and considerably better pay."

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