Workers Unite

About 130 tutors who are employed by the Keene public school system are planning a rally to demand justice. “We are planning on rallying at central square but we don’t have a date yet,” Kathy Twombly told the Valley Post on January 15, 2020. She is president of the tutors' union. Twombly's union is part of a bigger union that has a web site at www.nea.org.

Last year she told the Valley Post, “Tutors in Keene earn about $15,000 per year on average, which is near the federal poverty level for an individual with no dependents. Keene tutors qualify for public assistance. (The Keene public schools human resources director is paid $105,000 per year.) We asked the board to consider paying tutors as much per hour as they pay custodians, and the board did not even acknowledge the discrepancy.... The school district has had to replace 34 percent of the tutor workforce in the past year.... One of the reasons for the high turnover rate is low pay and lack of benefits.”

She continued, “There is an alarming and increasing rate of assaults against employees by students, including punching, choking, and broken bones. In one Keene elementary school, 10 tutors quit over the summer due to the violence and poor working conditions.... The board was unwilling to work on any provisions that would address the rising number of injuries, health and safety concerns, workplace violence, or other threats to employee wellbeing. (The board seems to be) preoccupied with busting the union.”

Last year, the chair of the school board told the Valley Post, "The Keene board appreciates the hard work and compassion of the tutors in our schools. With that in mind, the board’s negotiators offered the tutors raises over four years amounting to a higher percentage increase than what our teachers’ union just agreed to for the same time period. The offered raises were higher on average than what was agreed to by any of our bargaining groups over the last three years. "

In 2018, thousands of teachers went on strike around the nation. Many of the strikes were illegal and many were opposed by union officials in Washington, DC. But the teachers won huge gains and judges generally declined to punish the teachers.

Rick Cohen lives in Keene and is one of the richest people in the world. In 2013, he had a “net worth” of more than $11 billion, according to an article published that year in Bloomberg News.

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The annual Northampton Women's March, which attracts thousands of people every year, is moving to Springfield. “It will be on January 18,” Rachel Maiore told the Valley Post. She's the main organizer. “What a gift it’s been to develop relationships with community leaders in the Springfield area.”

Details are at www.PioneerValleyWomensMarch.org.

The photos at

www.valleypost.org/node/1551

were taken in January 2019. They show the Northampton Women's March. The most frequently seen signs opposed Trump's policies and supported peace, justice, and environmental protection.

There will be speakers before and after the march. One of the speakers will be Springfield city councilor Tracye Whitfield. The below photo of Whitfield is from her Facebook page.

The weather forecast says it might snow on the march. The march will happen anyway, according to the march web site and Facebook page.

There will also be women's marches in Keene and in Ashfield, Massachusetts on January 18. Details are at http://womensmarch.com/sister-march

Comments

The Association of Keene

The Association of Keene Tutors, which represents over 120 Special Education support staff in Keene, is asking Keene voters to support the implementation of a fact finder’s recommended changes to the pay and benefits these employees receive in the next few years. The fact finder was paid by both the Association and the District to make recommendations for a compromise agreement that would make improvements to the wages and benefits, in an effort to attract and retain qualified employees.

The need for Special Education Tutor positions is driven by students’ individualized education plans (IEPs), and the District has been suffering from a shortage of employees willing to work for low wages and minimal benefits. These positions, which represent almost 20% of the workforce in the Keene School District, are subject to an alarmingly high rate of vacancies and turnover. Data reviewed by the Association shows that on most days, between 20-25% of Tutor positions have been vacant, and within the past year 50% of Tutors have resigned, citing low wages and inadequate benefits. Vacancies and turnover in the Special Education workforce negatively impact the delivery of educational services in the District, and negatively impact student outcomes.

“We are committed to excellence in education,” says the Association of Keene Tutors’ president, Kathy Twombly. “The District needs to be able to attract and retain qualified employees to do this work. Adopting the fact finder’s recommendations will be a step in the right direction, getting Keene’s wages and benefits closer to those for comparable positions in SAU 29 districts and other districts in the region.” Currently, Special Education Tutors in Keene receive no employer contribution towards health insurance. Employees in comparable positions can earn between $3.00-$4.00 more per hour in other nearby school districts (or up to $7.00 more per hour for experienced Tutors with a Department of Education certification), as well as receiving health insurance benefits.

The fact finder recommended a gradual increase in wages and a small contribution towards the cost of health insurance for Tutors, as well as other modest improvements, to make the Keene School District more competitive. “We are hoping that if the voters approve of these recommendations, the District may someday be able to fully staff its Special Education program,” says President Twombly. “We want the best for Keene students, and that requires an investment to remediate the shortage of Special Education support staff.”

She added that the negotiations process, which included mediation and fact finding, was an investment by the union and the School Board to reach a compromise. “Neither the Board nor the employees are getting everything they wanted, but we worked for over 18 months and paid over $30,000 for a mediator and a fact finder to assist us in reaching a fair compromise. We have confidence in this process and believe that the fact finder, who is a neutral arbitrator with extensive experience and expertise, has issued fair recommendations for sustainable improvements.” The fact finder’s recommendations will appear on the March 2020 school district warrant as Article 11. The full 76-page fact finder’s report is available to the public.

--Kathy Twombly

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