AUBURN — Holding signs that read "Educators care," "Settle Now" and "Keep Our Quality Schools," Auburn teachers showed up at Wednesday night's School Committee meeting in silent protest.
For about two years, the teachers' union and the School Committee have not agreed on a labor contract.
It was standing-room only as the teachers filled the meeting room. Outside the room, union President Timothy Wegmann explained why teachers were there.
"We really feel we've given some major concessions, particularly in the health insurance," he said. "We're disappointed in terms of being heard, how we're being treated. We're looking for protection from extra work."
The union is objecting to broad policy language that would mean teachers work more hours for no more pay, said Wegmann of the Auburn Education Association.
On health care, to eventually save taxpayers money, the school department offered to pay 100 percent of health care premiums for teachers and their children, but to no longer pay for premiums of teachers' spouses, arguing many can get health care from their employers.
That would have saved $800,000, money that would be spent on higher teacher salaries.
The union rejected that, saying health care for spouses is important and too many families would be hurt.
Last month, the union made a major concession, tentatively agreeing to pay more of spouses' health care, Wegmann said.
Taxpayers now pay 90 percent of spouses' premiums. The union offered to pay 20 percent for spouses and taxpayers would pay 80 percent. "That's a 100 percent increase," Wegmann said.
Teachers would pay 7 percent of health care for themselves and their children, and taxpayers would pay 93 percent. However, those percentages would not apply to spouses who could get health care from their employers but don't. They would pay 30 percent of the spousal share.
That would save Auburn taxpayers close to $400,000, Wegmann said. That savings would not be put back into teachers' salaries.
Teachers realize times are difficult, Wegmann said, "but we feel we're being asked to make all the concessions. The state doesn't want to fund. The City Council doesn't want to fund. The School Committee is looking to support their programs through our salary and benefit concessions."
School Committee member Tom Kendall, who is part of the negotiations team for the school department, told teachers he has great respect for them. They're on the front line. "We don't lose sight of that," Kendall said.
The school department's early offer was not to save money, but to insulate the city from future insurance premiums, Kendall said. "The spouse does not provide a service to the community. We were turning $800,000 back into salaries."
As the economy "keeps going south, every day the union doesn't accept the offer, we cannot improve our offer. The money keeps disappearing," he said.
He said union leadership was not sharing information with teachers.
"Leadership is not taking our sincere proposals back to the membership for feedback. They're just making decisions themselves," Kendall said. "I don't think leadership informed them about our original proposals. I still find it incredulous they did not take it to their membership."
Wegmann disagreed, saying union members are kept informed. He has gone to every school to update teachers, Wegmann said. "We've offered (Kendall) the opportunity to address members."