School secretaries contract passes

NASHUA – Bob Sherman hasn’t been a stranger to the aldermanic chamber, certainly not for the past year and a half.

Sherman, the Nashua Teachers Union president, shepherded the teachers contract through a tough, winding road to its approval last year. He has also spoken to aldermen in support of labor agreements covering paraprofessionals and other school district employees.

On Tuesday, Sherman may have made his last appearance before the Board of Aldermen, at least to argue the merits of a proposed contract.

When he stood at the microphone in the chamber in support of a contract for school secretaries, Sherman joked that aldermen might have to wait two years to see him again.

Later in the evening, the board approved a collective bargaining agreement that would cover roughly 100 school secretaries.

The contract extends from this July 1 to June 30, 2011.

Unlike many labor negotiations the city has faced recently, the secretaries current contract hasn’t expired. It ends June 30, the day before the new contract takes effect.

The agreement gives secretaries raises of 2.75 percent for each of the two years. The total contract cost for the two years, including salaries and benefits, is $9.03 million.

Fourteen of the 15 Board of Aldermen members voted for the contract after a brief discussion. The lone nay vote came from Alderman-at-Large Fred Teeboom, who questioned why secretaries would receive overtime pay for working more than 7-1/2 hours a day, or more than 37-1/2 for the week.

Teeboom attempted to make a motion that would set the threshold for overtime at eight hours for a day and 40 hours for a week.

However, Alderman-at-Large Steven Bolton told Teeboom his motion was out of order, reminding him that by law aldermen can only approve or reject cost items in a negotiated contract, not change them.

Despite Bolton’s suggestions that he try making a different motion, Teeboom opted only to vote against the contract rather than moving to reject the cost item for overtime pay.

After the meeting, Sherman said that secretaries work eight-hour shifts for a total of 40 hours a week, but take a half-hour lunch each day without pay, leading to the 7-1/2- and 37-1/2-hour figures.

Two school secretaries attended the meeting – Kathy Berry from Nashua High School South and Virginia Esson from Pennichuck Middle School.

After the meeting, Berry and Esson said the process for approving the contract went smoothly because it contained reasonable pay increases.

Two years ago, the process was a lot rockier, Esson said.In 2007, the secretaries’ contract – after winning a narrow approval from aldermen – was vetoed by the mayor, forcing the union and city negotiators back to the bargaining table to hash out a new agreement.

Although six labor negotiations with city employees are ongoing, none involves school employees. Sherman said he was pleased, and relieved, that the next contracts to come up concerning the school district won’t be until 2011.

“I’m delighted and thrilled the school system can now focus on the students and the challenges it’s going to face, especially with No Child Left Behind,” Sherman said.