PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – The Providence Teachers Union is warning the Elorza administration that it will operate under work-to-rule status if a planned contract negotiation session Thursday doesn’t produce results, according to union president Maribeth Calabro.
Calabro confirmed Tuesday her membership has already voted to enter work-to-rule mode, a practice that could result in teachers refusing to volunteer, stay after school or do anything beyond what is required under their existing contract, which expired nearly one year ago.
But Calabro stressed that the work-to-rule vote is “contingent on the success or failure of Thursday’s session.” She said she is “cautiously optimistic” that progress will be made. Students return to school Sept. 4.
“We are entering our second year and teachers are beyond frustrated,” Calabro wrote in an email to Eyewitness News. “Last year we spent without a contract and teachers are disgusted by the lack of urgency on the city side. That being said, work-to-rule will not take place if we make progress and the city is prepared to make a fair, respectful offer.”
Emily Crowell, a spokesperson for Elorza, called the union’s vote “disappointing.”
“The Providence Teachers Union put work-to-rule on the table because they know that this practice will negatively impact our students,” she said. “There are countless teachers in our schools who would never use our students as leverage but it’s disappointing that the union leadership would encourage this practice. This is a dispute between adults and it should stay that way.”
The city’s 2,000 teachers worked all of the 2017-18 school year without a contract, prompting the union and its supporters to protest the mayor’s state of the city address in February and his re-election campaign kickoff event in June. Calabro and other union members have repeatedly taken to social media to voice their frustration with Elorza in recent months.
“As @PTU958 has waited patiently for a fair collective bargaining agreement some not so factual information has been put out there from City Hall,” Calabro tweeted Aug. 27. “Can we stop with the lies and sit down like professionals and come to a fair agreement that respects the work we do everyday, please!”
Calabro has accused Elorza of pulling the plug on a proposal in January that would have given teachers small raises, but the mayor has said he is seeking a “transformational” contract that would improve outcomes in city schools.
“The truth is that our schools, in so many ways, are low-performing and we can’t tolerate the status quo,” Elorza said in February, a comment he has repeated on several occasions in the months that followed. “We need to do something big, something with a vision.”
Crowell confirmed the mayor is planning to attend Thursday’s negotiation session. He has not attended previous meetings between the union and his administration.
State law prohibits teachers from voting to strike, but work-to-rule status could still disrupt the way schools run in Providence. If they decide to work-to-rule, Calabro said her members “will follow the letter of the contract no more and no less.”
“They will come in at their contractual start time and leave at their contractual end time,” she said. “All the extra things, volunteering, staying late and coming early will cease until we have a TA that respects us as professionals.”
Calabro said she plans to notify teachers about the outcome of negotiations by Friday.
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Dan McGowan (email@example.com) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan