NAUGATUCK — The state Board of Mediation and Arbitration has upheld a contract between the borough and the union representing custodians, paraprofessionals, secretaries and cafeteria workers in the Naugatuck public school system.
The union, which represents more than 200 school employees, went to arbitration proceedings with the Board of Education on Oct. 10 over a contract that most union members believe is unfair to a majority of its members.
The employees, who are represented by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, had its former leadership board negotiate a contract for more than 2 1/2 years while their salaries were frozen. The new contract called for a 2 percent raise for employees each year for the next three years and waives the pension for all incoming hires. It also includes givebacks on insurance. The union’s former leaders signed a tentative agreement on the proposal, but the membership turned down the pact 153-10.
The union members, who are among the lowest-paid employees in the district, said they wanted to go back to the table with the Board of Education because they disagreed with the contract, and the way it was negotiated by their former leadership. However, the school board decided to go to arbitration.
The arbitration panel was fairly critical of the union’s arguments in front of the committee. In its ruling, the panel states “the union did not offer a single shred of evidence that should in any way alter what was agreed to by the parties at the table. In fact, the union’s attempt to nullify the agreement of the parties with respect to the defined contribution (retirement) plan while at the same time ‘happily accepting’ the wage increases and insurance plans makes a mockery of the negotiation process and is an abuse of the interest arbitration process.
The panel continued, “For one party to accept all of the negotiated issues as they appear in the tentative agreement, which was signed by the union negotiating team, and then come to this panel to obtain an additional benefit that was not negotiated between the parties cannot be accepted by this panel.”
The way the contract was negotiated caused a rift between AFSCME employees within the district, especially those at the Tuttle House Board of Education building. The local union now has a new leadership team. They accused former union President Sarah Poynton of negotiating for her own best interest, and that of some of her closest allies, and not for the full union membership.
Poynton, who works at Tuttle now as a purchasing agent for the school district making $21.35 an hour, previously worked as a paraprofessional earning $12.71 an hour. She got the new job in the middle of the negotiating process.
Poynton has stated emphatically that she stood up for all members of the district during the negotiation process.
Current union leaders could not be reached for comment.