RSU 39 teachers’ union protests lack of contract

11 years ago
Aroostook Republican Photo/Lisa Wilcox
    Members of the Eastern Aroostook Education Association conducted a peaceful protest outside of the RSU 39 Superintendent’s Office in Caribou during the school board meeting held on the evening of Nov. 6 to make their voices heard regarding the inability of the board and the teachers to come to agreement on a contract for the 2013 school year. The teachers have been working without a renewed contract since July 31.  

By Lisa Wilcox
Staff Writer

    CARIBOU — Members of the Eastern Aroostook RSU 39 School Board and others were met with spirited shouts of protest as members of the Eastern Aroostook Education Association lined the entrance to the Superintendent’s Office in Caribou during the regularly scheduled school board meeting on the evening of Nov. 6.
    “We want our contract and we want it now!” was the chant heard from the over 30 teachers representing each of the six Caribou and Limestone schools that comprise the RSU.
    The teachers’ contract expired on July 31 of this year, and continuing negotiations with the teaching staff and the board has failed to reach an agreement on a successor contract.

    According to a public statement issued by the RSU 39 Board of Education, although the previous contract has expired, both the board and the EAEA are legally bound to continue all conditions in effect under that contract until a new one is settled.
    The EAEA states that issues remaining on the table include: adding an extra day to the school year without additional compensation for teachers; all new teachers being required to attend a two-day training without pay; teachers being mandated to work an extra day without additional pay; teachers being rated on their participation in community events; and a freeze on all stipends, including coaches and extracurricular activities, for over three years. 
    “The EAEA is attempting to maintain the rights that have existed in all previous contracts, but the board is seeking to add items to the contract that have never been met before,” said Kenneth Atcheson, a social studies teacher at Caribou High School and the chief negotiator for the EAEA. “The board has a recalcitrant attitude about what they want. They want everything and offer nothing.” 
    After negotiations failed, the board and the teachers recently spent two 13.5-hour days in Augusta in discussion with a Maine Relations Board mediator, and still no agreement was met. The next step, according to the board, is for both parties to present their positions to a three-member panel, which will then recommend terms of a possible settlement to the parties.
    “The board and the association have had difficulty reaching agreement on important issues regarding compensation and working conditions. The board respects the association’s interest in compensating teachers well for the work they do, while it must also be cognizant of the financial burden on our taxpayers in this difficult economy,” the RSU Board of Education statement reads.
    The EAEA pointed out that during the negotiations, the RSU has hired legal counsel with an estimated cost of over $25,000.    
    “They don’t want to pay the teachers what they are worth, but they are certainly willing to pay lawyers,” Atcheson said.  
    Maine law prohibits the EAEA from striking; something, according to Atcheson, the teachers would most likely not do anyway.
    “Most of these teachers are too concerned about their students’ education to strike,” Atcheson commented. “They work hard for their students as it is. Drive by the school any time after hours, on weekends, on holidays, during the summer, and you will see cars there. Those are the teachers putting in extra time for their kids.”    
    “The board understands that the teachers are anxious to settle the contract, and sincerely appreciates teachers’ continued hard work and professionalism in service to our students as negotiations continue,” the RSU public statement reads. “We are confident that a settlement can and will be reached in the near future, and we appreciate the patience of all members of the community as we continue the negotiation process.”