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Yordon: NFT is willing to negotiate

Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) First Vice President Joe Giandurco, left, and NFT President Mary Yordon confer during Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting in the Center for Global Studies.

NORWALK, Conn. — The Norwalk Federation of Teachers is willing to negotiate, President Mary Yordon said Friday.

On Thursday, the Board of Education Finance Committee unanimously recommended budget cuts totally nearly $2 million. The 2017-18 Norwalk Public Schools budget was built with an assumption that Norwalk teachers and other school employees would move to a state health insurance plan, but the Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) has not signed on.

Yordon’s statement:

“The Board of Education has proposed roughly two million dollars of cuts to our schools to respond to the budget crisis.  Cuts are needed now, but could have been avoided. The Board’s inflexible position is the reason we are in this crisis.  The NFT is not opposed to discussing the State 2.0 plan.  We have tried and remain willing to negotiate to find a solution that is mutually beneficial to solve the budget problem. We made an offer, but they refused to negotiate.  Our collective bargaining agreement actually allows for a change in health carrier that is not satisfied by the State plan, and so negotiating is required. They are negotiating with other smaller labor units, but not us.
“Our students will pay the price for obstructionist arrogance. We remain ready to serve them despite the many challenges.”

 

BoE Chairman Mike Lyons responded with this email:

“This statement by Ms. Yordon is a pretty accurate description of the NFT’s behavior. NO other union in Norwalk has tried to use this financial crisis to line its own pockets.  The NFT has caused these layoffs, and bears 100% of the responsibility for the consequences.”

 

Yordon’s written statement echoes comments she made Thursday to NancyOnNorwalk, after the Finance Committee announced its recommended cuts.

“They have a labor complaint filed against us so they took (negotiating) off the table,” BoE Finance Committee Chairman Bryan Meek said, responding to Yordon’s comment.

The NFT complaint alleges that BoE members made inaccurate, misleading public statements to intimidate union members.

The recommended cuts would eliminate all 43 kindergarten aides, two Brookside pre-school teachers and four Brookside preschool para-professsionals.

NFT members re-elected Yordon and other union leaders this week. Yordon has been president since late 2015, elected after the sudden death of NFT President Bruce Mellion.

Norwalk Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Thomas Hamilton said Thursday that it would be possible to reverse the cuts but, “We would have to move very quickly.”

If all the bargaining groups shifted to Connecticut Partnership 2.0 by Sept. 1, “I think there would be some prospect to reversing some of this,” Hamilton said.

“We were hoping to get everybody on this plan, save the city money, save the members money,” Meek said. “What happened from there, it’s hard to say.”

Meek said he understood that it is daunting to change doctors.

“Our HR department would pull those doctors into this network, but you have to say, ‘My doctor is not in this network.’ We don’t know. It’s HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) laws,” Meek said. “Tell us and we’ll go to them. There is no reason that doctor would not want to go into a network of providers that could potentially get every municipal and state employee in their back pocket… Why would they not want to go on what could potentially be the largest shared pool? This was the single payer concept, 2.0, on a contained state level, at least for municipal level.”

32 comments

Sue Haynie June 10, 2017 at 6:20 am

The NFT has “medical, dental, vision and life insurance coverage and benefits that are unparalleled in each category and collectively in the state and the nation” per NFT Vanguard.

Norwalk middle class taxpayers, on the other hand, have had to change insurance carriers and doctors any number of times since ACA–no negotiation. Premiums on the individual market have tripled and coverage has shrunk–no negotiation.

Drewt June 10, 2017 at 7:45 am

Maybe the Union thinks a comedy night could raise the money back we need to avoid the cuts. They have 2 great acts telling lies and making us all laugh. This is BEYOND too late for this show! They could have prevented ALL of this! They were so eager to switch plans?!? Yeah tell us another and we can extend the show!
PS..Please tip the waitresses!

DBH63 June 10, 2017 at 8:03 am

These are the moments that give labor unions a bad name. And now our children suffer. I would be happy to have been offered a solution like this, for the common good. Couple this with the fact that this is where healthcare is going. Norwalk NFT, get on board, welcome the future and stop pulling the rest of us back to the dark ages!

M. Murray June 10, 2017 at 8:33 am

Their is a contract in place and both sides are expected to honor the contract. If renegotiating the contract is desired by the Board of Ed before the end date of the contract, they are doing so to gain some benefit. As such, they should also be willing to reward the union of reopening the contract so that both parties benefit. Contracts are signed by both parties to ensure that they know what to expect during the lifetime of the contract. That is actually why contracts are in place. It is so one side can not arbitrarily change the terms like the Board is trying to do. Either respect the contract or entice the. Union to reopen with some additional benefit to make up for their loss. It doesn’t have to be monetary, but could be a change in working conditions that benefit the employees.

Donna June 10, 2017 at 8:49 am

@M.Murray raises a good point. Contracts are contracts. The problem isn’t the contract. It’s the union itself. Many schools thrive without hiring union members and without signing union contracts, which in down times become mechanisms for extortion. Next time around the BOE needs to build flexibility into its contract with the NFT, including the ability to hire outside the union to fill teacher vacancies. It is unconscionable that the NFT has Norwalk in a stranglehold. The schools are underperforming. The teachers are under-delivering. This ain’t Westport. Pay accordingly. Look at the qualifications, the pay for 10 months work, the benefits and then ask yourselves, could we do better for our children than to be beholden to the NFT in perpetuity?

srb June 10, 2017 at 9:13 am

Not a teacher in Norwalk but the parent of two students and the teachers and administrators in Norwalk we’ve dealt with have been fantastic. They work incredible hours, stay connected to their students and are dedicated professionals. I don’t want to disparage our neighboring districts but comparing Norwalk’s performance with towns that are a quarter of the size that spend more money on their playing fields than Norwalk spends on all its extracurricular events over probably a two or three year period is ridiculous. The neighboring districts are amongst the wealthiest in the country and the parents often spend thousands (in some cases 10s 1000s of dollars a year for extra tutors, test prepping courses and college counselors. Transfer the teachers in Norwalk to Westport and I have little doubt that the results in Westport would be no different, transfer the teachers in Westport to Norwalk, I hope they’d have as good results but I’d be much more hesitate to predict so. The Board of Ed. tone and public criticism of the union (scapegoating) is counter-productive and Trumpian.

M. Murray June 10, 2017 at 9:36 am

As an old timer, I remember back when inflation skyrocketed in the middle of contracts, and pensions were overfunded so the city stopped contributing to the pension system for about 8 years and used those dedicated funds for other things. I don’t rememember the city willing to renegotiate because the contract was unfair to the unions at that time

Donna June 10, 2017 at 9:58 am

@srb, I agree that our neighboring towns dedicate considerable resources to improving their children’s educational outcomes. It’s no wonder Staples Players musicals rival Broadway shows. They start getting voice lessons in elementary school, and once in high school, the productions involve outside choreographers, musicians, dialect coaches, etc.

Private tutoring is almost an expectation. So yes, Norwalk teachers do more with less. BUT Yordon and the NFT aren’t doing the kids any favors. Norwalk has been forced to yield to other pressures, specifically an exploding SPED budget. It’s not unreasonable to ask the NFT to switch to a different insurance plan. My quibble with the union is not a critique of the fine educators who shepherd Norwalk students through their schools.

Laurie June 10, 2017 at 10:03 am

The Board of Ed got itself into this mess. Last year they took money from the insurance fund to bail out special ed. They assumed that all the unions would hop on board with the 2.0 insurance and surprise, they did not. You can’t expect any union to open a contract unless you give them something in return.It’s not that the 2.0 insurance is bad, it’s just that the current insurance is amazing because the city is self insured. The 2.0 insurance coverage is not as extensive and United Healthcare has a history of taking a long time paying claims. The Board created this situation, stop pointing fingers and work it out. Why weren’t more positions at Central Office cut? There are a lot of chiefs down there. Kindergarten aides work one-on-one with our kids. It’s disgusting.

Drewt June 10, 2017 at 12:38 pm

The Board did try and work it out but the Unions demands were unreasonable! Further there was nothing for the union to really win or loose. Or they would have won by saving members jobs! They would have won because they STILL would have one of the most amazing health plans going today! They world have won because Come negotiations when the contact was up could have used this cooperation as a bargaining chip. So o guess I stand corrected when I said no one really would win except the Union. And the losers in all of this once again are the children! There is no other way to sugar coat any of this. The Union switched plans everyone wins! But I guess the Egos of the President and VP are a lot bigger then everyone thought and they come first! Once again disgraceful!

M. Murray June 10, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Drew, there is no way that the union would have been able to use this concession as a bargaining chip in future contracts. That is not how it works. The bargaining chip is now, when the Board wants a concession. The Board needs to give something up in order to get a concession. That is how negotiation works. Contract extension with pay increases during the extension, more vacation or personal days, etc

Mike Barbis June 10, 2017 at 1:22 pm

I just want to put some facts out there.

Many union contracts allow their employer to switch their health insurance carrier (e.g., Trumbull teachers). As most of us know, this is true of all private employers. In the case of the Norwalk teachers contract, it does give the union the choice to choose whether to change or not.

Is the BOE really asking to re-open the contract and penalize the employees? All the BOE had done is ask the union to switch plans to a very similar plan that costs both the employer (the BOE) and the employees less and offers incrementally more free services to the employees. Employees could easily save $1500/year if they switched.

The plan the BOE has asked the teachers to switch to offers 93% of the same doctors and, if names are given, the plan will reach out to those 7% not currently in the network and try to add them.

Laurie, please give facts on how the coverage is not as extensive and how the plan pays slowly. I would like to look into this. You can email me at [email protected]

M. Murray June 10, 2017 at 2:09 pm

Many union contracts allow the employer to switch health insurance plans with equal or better coverage. This may not be the case. With all the projected savings to the BOE, you think they would negotiate moderate concessions to the union. Again, when the economy changes benefitted the employer from n good years, you never saw them rushing to give concessions and added benefits to the employees in the middle of the contract. Used to be a deal was a deal

Drewt June 10, 2017 at 3:13 pm

In the real world M Murray it doesn’t work like that AT ALL!! I’ve changed my Health Care and I’m a Proud Union Member! The company said we would like to change this the Union asked why. The company Same coverage for less money the Union said GREAT! No drama, no cuts, no job loss. Like I said before and I’ll say it agin EVERYONE WINS! Including the Union!! Just not in Norwalk and the NFT!

Sarah Waters June 10, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Thank you Mike Barbis for succinctly putting out the facts and offering to look into concerns/problems.

The concession is, accept the 2.0 carrier, the sooner the better, maybe you’ll be able to keep your K aides. The K aides help not only with K, but they perform all types of help/cross covering of teachers/staff across K-5!

LisaThomson June 10, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Having been critical of collective bargaining and Bruce Mellion (RIP) for years, I believe he would have assessed the situation, done the math, and seen that it worked for his members. At the same time, he would have touted the NFTs tremendous goodwill and simultaneously executed a public relations campaign in the media. In contrast, the current NFT leadership have just left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.

Debora Goldstein June 10, 2017 at 5:22 pm

Two thoughts:

1. Why was Brookside targeted disproportionately?

2. 93% same doctors does not translate to keeping your doctor. Often doctors are listed in a directory, but “aren’t accepting new patients”. This should not be trivialized.

That said, negotiating is the correct approach to get to a solution. Now that all of the posturing is done, perhaps the middle ground can be found.

Demonizing people for doing their jobs (both employees and BOE members) is counterproductive.

Donna June 10, 2017 at 8:07 pm

The optics have not been good for the NFT in this negotiation. Their leadership has come across as both entitled and tone deaf, which I guess is something of a feat. Also both sides need to tread carefully when exploiting their primary bargaining tool–people’s children. No one loves our children more than the BOE and the NFT. But they’re both willing to throw the kids under the school bus to get their way. There’s got to be a better way to negotiate a deal. Also if the BOE is going to make painful cuts, share the pain with the folks in the Central Office.

MarjorieM June 10, 2017 at 10:49 pm

The BoE is using scare tactics when threatening to close the pool and get rid of K aides. There are many cuts to be made for that dollar amount that would not directly impact students. Stop the theatrics, BoE and look for obvious cuts. Start with the highly paid central office people.

Mike Barbis June 11, 2017 at 8:47 am

Please get your facts right — the pool is being transfered to the City, it is not being closed.

Marj — what position would you like to terminate in CO? Each one of those positions plays an important role in the system and is critical to meeting our objectives of the Strategic Operating Plan.

Deb — what do you mean about targeting Brookside disproportionately? The preK there is the only NPS operated preK with certified teachers in the whole district. NPS’s job is to educate k-12 students … PreK is either paid for privately or thru the State’s School Readiness program. The Brookside program is an outlier that NPS can no longer afford.

Deb — I don’t get your point about doctors and the network. If the doctor you have been using under the current insurance plan is in the 2.0 network, you can continue going to that doctor and the new insurance plan would still cover. If your doctor is not in the network. 2.0 says they will try to bring them into the plan. So how does a doctor not taking new patients factor into this?

Debora Goldstein June 11, 2017 at 12:19 pm

@Mike Barbis,

I stand corrected with Brookside. I’ve never had experience with a school system where the pre-K wasn’t the same throughout the system. It was the after-school programs that varied when I was growing up.

You’re right. You DON’T get my point. You are assuming this sentence is true “If the doctor you have been using under the current insurance plan is in the 2.0 network, you can continue going to that doctor and the new insurance plan would still cover.”

That is not how group insurance works. Doctors contract with each plan separately. The terms of their engagement, reimbursements, etc can be, and is, different with Plan A vs Plan B.

If a doctor is maintaining their service levels with a sufficient number of patients under Plan B, they can choose to stop accepting new patients under Plan B, even if they are still accepting new patients under Plan A. (A hypothetical scenario, Plan A give a pediatrician $200 for an office visit, and Plan B gives them $75–That’s a scenario where a doctor, as long as they have a sufficient number of patients under Plan B might stop accepting new patients). That doctor still shows up in the directory of Plan B because they are still currently seeing Plan B patients, but when NEW patients in Plan B go to make an appointment, they are told they cannot go to that doctor.

This is extremely common with specialists.

The point is that when the patient moves from Plan A, under the care of Dr. X, to Plan B, they are now a NEW PATIENT to Dr. X under Plan B.

There is nothing Plan A or Plan B can do to compel a Doctor to accept a new patient under those circumstances. It is up to the doctor, and often they are nice about it–but sometimes their business margins don’t permit them to take the losses, especially if a whole batch of patients under their care moves over at the same time. (In the example above, if twelve patients moved over, he’d be taking a loss over 50% for twelve patients at the same time).

I was once forced to change group plans, and not only was my doctor not in the new plan’s directory, but all TWELVE specialists listed in the new plan in my service territory weren’t accepting new patients. I had to go to another city for care.

If I were the Board, I would not be using that statistic of 93% same doctors as an indicator that there is likely to be little disruption in the continuity of care for the union members. The more realistic you are about what you are asking of them, the more likely everyone is to come to an understanding.

Money is money, but health care is life. If someone is looking at a shortened life span, or the difference between walking and a wheelchair, they aren’t going to care how much you (or they) saved on premiums.

Mike B June 11, 2017 at 3:50 pm

What about the NECC? They don’t have certified teachers teaching Pre school there
Editor’s note: The commenter is not Mike Barbis.

MarjorieM June 12, 2017 at 11:22 am

Mike Barbis, eliminating positions at central office is the superintendent’s decision, certainly not mine.

anna russo June 12, 2017 at 4:58 pm

Omg~
@ deb – then DEAL with it… in other words, CHANGE your provider! {…} roll with the punches if you aren’t paying for it (in other words – off the backs of taxpayers!)
Editor’s note: This comment has been edited for violating the comments policy prohibition against insulting other commenters)
https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/comment-guidelines/

Patrick Mcauliffe June 12, 2017 at 5:31 pm

Looking along at these threads I just can’t help but feeling there is a whole backstory here. Both the BOE and the NFT are made up of good people, people who attempt to do their best for our kids. Somewhere along the way, the accumulated hurts and frustrations have led to this insane game of chicken. Was bailing out special ed a driver for the current budget? Yes in part. Are out of control health care costs another huge factor? Absolutely. Is there a contract in place? Yes. Should it be reopened for negotiations? Absolutely. Does creating an all or nothing/win or lose scenario move things along? No, it only drives parties to the fringes and hardens individuals feelings to a place where these negotiations have become too personal. Everyone, please take a step back and draw a breath, then draw another. Try to bring into you mind the many kids here in our schools. Bring them to mind and keep them in mind. Get back to the table, negotiate in good faith. Think win-win not won-lose. Consessions doesnt means you’ve lost and it doesn’t mean it’s got to be money. There may be some truly dumb and wasteful things that take up teachers time and could get rid of. It could result in a better quality of life for teachers. Do you know where they would invest that extra energy and positivity into? That’s right, out children. In a world of 12 year olds, someone has to be 13. I would encourage all parties to take another shot at this. My will continue to hold everyone in high regard on both sides of this issue. Please excuse any typos. I am
On my phone.

Sue Haynie June 12, 2017 at 9:23 pm

The NFT is eating the hand that feeds it.

How much is enough? Norwalk taxpayers have provided NFT members unparalleled insurance in the State and nation and some of the highest salaries in the State and nation (per the NFT itself) even though K-8 has some of the shortest instructional hours in the State. Theyve already got work rules, LIFO, seniority, vacation, sick days, absentee rates etc etc etc that benefit members often at the expense of the students. Norwalk taxpayers have given and given and given. How much is enough?

Bryan Meek June 13, 2017 at 7:05 am

@PatrickMcCauliffe. For this board member and others, it is not personal. It is purely financial. I find your accusations highly objectionable that this is some result of personal differences.

There is no back story. Everything is out there.

We just obtained a 4.5% increase on the year over year budget, almost $8 million. We needed a little cooperation to achieve all our budget goals and one and only one entity decided it was an opportunity to get more out of the taxpayers, who simply don’t have any more to give. Instead we were forced to cut programs and worse, positions.

To understand where we are it is better to understand what really happened than relying on one side’s sound bites of bogus information. They are not the victims here and using SPED as a scapegoat isn’t going to change the current situation.

SPED had been unfunded for years upon years putting the city at financial risk for lawsuit. Our neighbors in Darien learned the hard way to the tune of $20 million in legal costs. At the time it was decided to properly fund the SPED accounts to pay for all the state and federal unfunded mandates, our system was in worse shape than Darien’s. Things are improving here in this regard and we are avoiding that type of crisis. At the time we drew down health care reserves of 1.3 million to shore that area up our actuaries had a more favorable outlook on forecasted healthcare costs. The reality is that prior BOEs had been financing gold plated (and diamond encrusted) health care provisions outside our means at the expense of things like SPED and deteriorating school buildings for decades.

Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that health care costs rose $8.6 million this year, roughly 30%. We sought relief in the 2.0 plan that would have fully funded all programs for this coming year. The plan projected savings for its membership, which is why just about every other labor union is willing to take it for its members. Anyone in the private sector would switch to it in a heart beat. For the city, it would help contain and manage costs to avoid these ups and downs in the health care market.

In response to our offer, we were offered with a compromise that would have cost far more in future years than we would have saved in the current year. Accepting this would have repeated the mistakes of the past that have us where we are now with a contract that is nearly unsustainable. We don’t want to be in this position again next year and the year after having to cut more and more programs and services to feed one contract.

While we are trying to manage these spikes and the current situation, a lot of this didn’t happen overnight. It is the product of decades of negotiating the store away for Norwalk taxpayers who are powerless to a corrupt system of binding arbitration laws that guarantee above market outcomes for these bargaining units. It’s easy to understand the merits of these laws that came into effect years ago to give protections to public servants that no one else enjoys, but their intent has outlived their practicality and strapped the state on the edge of bankruptcy.

Even as we try to dial back some of the above market provisions, we are one state appointed arbitrator away from an adverse ruling. It’s not unique to Norwalk. It’s why Connecticut is in the shape it is in.

It would be irresponsible to continue down the path of destruction that we have been forging ahead on for decades by repeating the mistakes of the past. While the choices are difficult, we really have no choice this year and it is not personal, just financial.

Patrick Mcauliffe June 13, 2017 at 8:36 am

@brian meek. Tremendous respect for your service to the community, I honor that. I am sorry that you felt offended by my post, I actually tired hard to be down the center as I could. Certainly you might be able to see that all of this very highly charged talk personally bashing the board, the teachers, the BOE members could lead me to the assumption that frustration is playing a role here. It’s not a criticism after all we all are human, just a worry that when all folks are too passionately involved in an issue it’s hard to take a step back. With that all being said, I still think the solution is not to walk away from negotiations but to stick with it. I totally respect the idea that you were not accepting of the NFTs proposal. But why walk away and make it an all or none dynamic. Perhaps all the stakeholders should lock themselves in a room with a skilled independent mediator to hammer this out, perhaps if you could ever get to a win/win place (maybe that’s pie in the sky, I know) it could improve the relationship between the BOE and the NFT which as a result be very helpful in future contract negotiations. I for one am tired of the blame game and the personalized attacks, and find it unhelpful when trying to achieve common ground. I wish everyone well, remain hopeful and continue to respect and admire the work everyone does on behalf of the children in Norwalk.

Bryan Meek June 13, 2017 at 9:01 am

@PM. Not offended, I just find it objectionable. Our ability to negotiate was hamstrung when a labor complaint was filed against us for the mere act of communicating the benefits of the new plan to both participants and the city. I would be optimistic, but when the starting point is over 3% raises with no other concessions in an economic climate where real wages are down 3% in Fairfield County we seem to be at an impasse. We can’t step back. We are on the precipice already. We had the win/win proposition. All members save money, the city saves money, the school district keeps programming intact. It wasn’t enough unfortunately.

Patrick Mcauliffe June 13, 2017 at 10:16 am

Thanks for taking the time to explain your position to me. It very helpful and very informative. I suppose the labor complaint has a mechanism to get to the bottom of all of this disagreement although its very unfortunate that the Board and the NFT finds themselves in this unfortunate position. I truly have good will for all parties and hope you all find a way to a solution. Thanks again

John O'Neill June 13, 2017 at 11:08 am

I commend the board for taking a realistic approach to this problem. It’s not going away. It is my hope that the Board’s message is delivered properly to the community. The teacher’s union is obviously unsympathetic to the taxpayers of Norwalk..It would be informative to have someone spell out in layman’s terms the benefits teachers receive, and compare them to non-teachers. Maybe teachers are underpaid, maybe not..

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