Teacher back pay dispute gaining

NASHUA – The state’s labor relations board has ordered the arbitration to proceed in a dispute between the teachers union and the school district over back pay for a group of middle school teachers.

In September, the district filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the state’s Public Employee Labor Relations Board, arguing that the union was using the grievance process to get extra compensation for teachers.

The dispute centers around whether a group of 13 middle school teachers should get retroactive pay for teaching six courses during the 2006-07 school year.

Under the new teachers contract the maximum class load for secondary school teachers was dropped from six to five classes. The contract was approved in April but dates back to Sept. 1, 2006.

The union argues that the change should be retroactive and teachers should be compensated for teaching the extra course. The union filed a grievance and Superintendent Christopher Hottel rejected it.

The union appealed to the school board, which also rejected it.

The union then filed for arbitration on the matter, which would typically be the next step in such a dispute. But the district attempted to block arbitration through its filing with the labor relations board in September.

Both sides presented their cases to the board at a hearing Dec. 9, and on Dec. 15 the board issued an interim order that arbitration should proceed.

Bob Sherman, president of the Nashua Teachers Union, said the ruling was the outcome he was hoping for.”We were simply looking for the right to take this case to an impartial arbitrator,” he said.

Attorney Tom Closson, representing the school district, said even if the arbitrator decides that the district has to pay the teachers, state law requires that the aldermen approve all cost items.

“The argument is that the union is seeking a cost item that we allege was never considered or approved by the aldermen,” he said.

The district contends that the union never brought up the issue of needing to compensate teachers retroactively for extra classes during the negotiating process.

The labor board’s ruling only means that arbitration will proceed. If an arbitrator sides with the union and orders the district to provide back pay, the issue could be brought to the labor board again.

Arbitration is set to take place sometime in May. Both sides have agreed to Richard G. Higgins as the arbitrator.

The union hasn’t specified exactly how much the combined cost would be to pay all of the 13 teachers retroactively.

When Sherman appealed to the school board in June, he argued that one of the teachers should be paid $49,000 for the one class of 28 students, using the formula in the contract for classroom overages.