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City Council Approves New School Secretaries Contract, with Reservations

The City Council last week approved a new contract for school secretaries, but not before blasting the school department for negotiating for deep cuts that they said were a "travesty of justice."

But the secretaries union, afraid of potentially deeper cuts if the contract wasn't approved by the City Council, urged the council to pass it anyway.

"It's wrong for one of the lowest paid bargaining units in the city have to bear a $221,000 cut in their contract while administrators are receiving raises," said Councilman Don Botts. "It's blatantly unfair."

Council members took issue with the severity of the cuts, including a provision that full-time secretaries will work five days with no pay, lose five paid holidays, endure a wage freeze, longevity pay freezes and higher medical insurance costs. Part time secretaries will work four days with no pay.

Secretaries now have a $500 deductible and co-pays will be $15 for a doctor's visit, $25 for a specialist and $50 for urgent care. Emergency room visits will cost $100 and prescription drug costs also go up.

"It's pretty stiff medicine for the union, but they're asking us to approve it," said Councilman Steve Stycos.

Union President Lori Ryan told the council that the secretaries make between $34,000 and $39,000.

The school district entered negotiations looking for an across-the-board 15 percent wage cut. That proposal was rejected in non-binding arbitration, leading to the current contract, which means union members were worried what the contract might look like if the council opted not to ratify it and send everyone back to the negotiating table.

Council Vice President Michael Farina said he heard "fear" in the union president's voice at last month's Finance Committee meeting. He originally was planning on voting against the contract out of principle, but when he heard the union's urgings to approve it anyway, he said he felt obliged.

"I will vote for this contract, but I don't think it's a fair contract," Farina said.

Councilman Richard Santamaria said he thought the contract was "shameful" and he had to vote in favor it it "because I don't want to hurt you any worse than you've been hurt," he said, describing the experience as "eating a rat sandwich."

"The money used for [raises] for administrators could have been used to help you out," Santamaria said.

Council members also hinted at the school district's surplus at the end of the last fiscal year. Though the amount of the surplus hasn't been officially released, it is expected to be more than $1 million.

"I see this as an injustice because the School Committee is chipping away at the lower paid individuals at a time when the school department is giving raises to their administrators with six-figure salaries," said Councilman Paul Archetto. "The union took a major hit."

Council President John E. Lanni Jr. said the contract is a "shame" and the secretaries "got stepped on."

"It's an injustice," Lanni said. "I feel bad for this union, but I will have to vote for this because they want it." 

The secretaries union has 61 members.

To read the arbitrator's report, click here.

Chris12 December 02, 2013 at 07:16 AM
"The money used for [raises] for administrators could have been used to help you out," Santamaria said. The money used to pay union leaders(raises) and decreasing union dues could also help out...
Kimberly Manchester December 02, 2013 at 07:25 AM
Does anybody else see the sexism here? Education levels aside, for that is an even deeper issue, secretaries are mainly women; administrators mainly men. Shame on the school board for further marginalizing an already underappreciated group of employees!
Jonathan Keith December 02, 2013 at 07:55 AM
Simple answer would be to get out of the Unionized school system. With that being out of the question, the fact that the secretaries are being forced to pay for their doctors and medical bills should be the norm, and not the exception! Everyone in the private sector sees the same if not worse from employers!! The school system should be no different. @Kimberly: Sexism?? The RI Board of Education Chair is a woman!! Really... Have a cup of coffee before you try to blast stupidity on patch.
Bob December 02, 2013 at 08:14 AM
Secretary contract. ?????????? Are you kidding me. And we wonder why we suck.
Anne December 02, 2013 at 06:58 PM
It is not fair that secretaries have to work five days without pay. No private sector would agree to that for sure. The secretary contract is not a good one, but this article said they are the lowest paid..they are not. Teacher assistants in Cranston get paid under 20000 a year and they have to have an associates degree or have to have passed the Praxis parapro examination, as well as having finished a 10 week course given at CCRI and be RIDE certified...also they have to complete eight hours of classes each year to keep their jobs.....all those qualifications for under 20000..TA's in cranston are not only the lowest paid employee in cranston but also the lowest paid TAs in all of Rhode Island. I think we need to look at Teacher assistants getting paid peanuts and their job is very important...they do more than anyone knows to insure the education of our children. Secretaries, TAs, custodians should all be treated better in my opinion.
Jonathan Keith December 03, 2013 at 07:18 AM
Anne... If I were to add up all of the time spent in the office over the duration of a year I am sure it would surpass 5 days without effort... The fact that I am salary and do not get paid for such time spent outside of what is considered the norm does not require me to cry out in angry or unfair treatment. If the said individual(s) don't like the deal I am sure they can find employment elsewhere... If I were paid 35-40,000 and had shortened days, summers off, and every holiday the federal and state governments observed off I would not be complaining... Lets face the facts here and admit that there are perks to have such a job or people would not wish to do them... If you ask me they should be paid less...
Kimberly Manchester December 06, 2013 at 07:39 AM
And how many men were in the board that wrote thid contract? Do YOUR homework before retorting!
Kimberly Manchester December 06, 2013 at 07:41 AM
Please forgive the typos...I am responding fromy phone.
Cranston Voter December 07, 2013 at 12:07 PM
Cranston Voter After reading Dec 2nd and this mornings article both in the Journal, I would like to thank those members of the Cranston City Council for speaking out against the secretaries latest contract. My understanding is that shortly, the union will begin to negotiate a new contract that will take effect when the contract that was just retified by the council expires on June 30, 2014. Perhaps the council can work with or send letters to those involved with the development of the new contract to reinstate some of the injustices that have occurred. Especially since the School committee is forecasting a surplus for this fiscal year. Just as important, I would like to hear from our Mayor Alan Fung on this issue. After all most of these secretaries live in Cranston, pay property taxes in Cranston, shop in Cranston, and spend their entertainment dollard in Cranston . Mayor Fung, you are running for Governor in 2014 and you will have a primary in September of 2013. Let these secretaries know your feelings on this issue and what if anything, you intend to do to help them out! You boast about your leadership skills, where are you on this issue. Let the secretaries know where you stand so that they can make and educated decision on who to vote for in the primary, you or BLOCK. Hope to hear something soon. The silence is deafening
Cranston Voter December 07, 2013 at 12:10 PM
Cranston Voter After reading Dec 2nd and this mornings article both in the Journal, I would like to thank those members of the Cranston City Council for speaking out against the secretaries latest contract. My understanding is that shortly, the union will begin to negotiate a new contract that will take effect when the contract that was just retified by the council expires on June 30, 2014. Perhaps the council can work with or send letters to those involved with the development of the new contract to reinstate some of the injustices that have occurred. Especially since the School committee is forecasting a surplus for this fiscal year. Just as important, I would like to hear from our Mayor Alan Fung on this issue. After all most of these secretaries live in Cranston, pay property taxes in Cranston, shop in Cranston, and spend their entertainment dollard in Cranston . Mayor Fung, you are running for Governor in 2014 and you will have a primary in September of 2013. Let these secretaries know your feelings on this issue and what if anything, you intend to do to help them out! You boast about your leadership skills, where are you on this issue. Let the secretaries know where you stand so that they can make and educated decision on who to vote for in the primary, you or BLOCK. Hope to hear something soon. The silence is deafening
Cranston Voter December 07, 2013 at 12:16 PM
Cranston Voter sorry for the double post
Cranston Voter December 07, 2013 at 12:42 PM
Cranston Voter sorry for the typo, should have been September 2014 primary. As you can see, in my haste to post, I made these two errors.

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