Union drama … again in Manchester.

As someone who belongs to a union and has seen contentious contract negotiations play out in the workplace, I find it fascinating the way public unions and government hash out contract deals so publicly. The media, in this case pretty much just me and the stories I write, can be seen as a problem or a tool by either side in getting what they want. Manchester teachers have long argued they have made concessions more than other city unions. More give-backs is not what the members are looking for. But school and city officials argue that holding out and forcing 160 or more layoffs could not only hurt schools and make teachers’ jobs nearly impossible, but it could also turn public sentiment against those who stand in front of the classroom.

Holding out at this point also puts allies of the teachers on the Board of Aldermen in a tough spot. After promising to give more money to schools if the unions show movement on concessions, it will be hard to convince those aldermen on the fence to shift money from city services to the one group that has decided to stand its ground in this year’s labor dispute.

This week’s column also got to note the work of a behind-the-scenes player in Manchester, Kevin O’Maley. As the overseer of all city buildings, he has worked hard to improve energy efficiency, showing that being environmentally friendly doesn’t have to be this dramatic political fight, but just makes common sense when done right.

 

Vote against school contract sends aldermen wrong signal

SINCE MAYOR Ted Gatsas laid out his budget, aldermen have been looking for more money for the Manchester School District. The amount the city can give schools under the new tax cap is about $12 million below what the district says it needs to keep staffing and services at today’s level. This column reported last month that if school unions signaled they would make concessions to save jobs, the aldermen would consider shifting more city funds over to the school side.

On April 17, the Manchester Education Association’s executive board voted against a tentative agreement reached by school and union leaders.

This was not the signal the aldermen were looking for.

MEA President Ben Dick said the agreement would have saved some jobs, but not all of them, which troubled the executive board.

“We’re looking at a group of people that has steadily declined over the past five years, and it looks to decline next year,” said Dick. “It’s tough for people to look at that.”

Dick said he has not closed the door to further discussions and that Superintendent of Schools Thomas Brennan has indicated he, too, would like to keep talking. Dick also understands that residents might be asking why the teachers turned down this deal if it could have saved some jobs.

“I struggle with the idea something could be done and hopefully save some jobs. The flip side is, how much of that needs to be done by us? That’s the tough part for me,” said Dick.

USUALLY, WHEN AN ALDERMAN lands on the losing side of a vote, he or she will walk out of the aldermanic chambers and leave the issue behind. But after the debacle with the health insurance bidding process and the vote to sign again with Anthem, Alderman Phil Greazzo had to say something.

“I was upset with the whole process. How embarrassing for the City of Manchester,” Greazzo said.

The Ward 10 alderman was one of two votes on Tuesday against a five-year contract with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield New Hampshire to run the city’s health insurance books. The other was Ward 4 Alderman Jim Roy.

CIGNA had submitted the lowest bid and was recommended by the committee charged with picking the best contract, but a last-minute offer from Anthem to sweeten the deal by $1 million prompted the aldermen and the Board of School Committee to go off course and open their own unofficial second round of bidding.

CIGNA said no thanks and pulled out, taking the cheaper deal with it.

“They had the best bid, and at the last minute, Anthem was able to come in and make an additional offer,” said Greazzo. It’s not that he favored one offer over the other, he said, but it was the way the two boards handled the bidding process.

“It’s a very bad precedent for the aldermen,” said Greazzo.

ALDERMAN GARTH Corriveau’s name is always one of those tossed around when people talk about up-and-coming Dems. Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign and New Hampshire Democrats raised the Ward 6 alderman’s profile a little higher by making him a Democratic spokesman during Republican Mitt Romney’s campaign stop at the Radisson.

Corriveau was outside before the event giving the “prebuttal” and was on the pre-event conference call with New Hampshire media.

“For our city here in Manchester, his plan could put $26 million at risk, which is 15 percent of our school budget,” said Corriveau, referencing a report in the Wall Street Journal in which Romney was quoted telling campaign donors he would reduce the size of the U.S. Department of Education. The loss of funds Corriveau mentions would mean the elimination of all federal funding for local city schools, which Romney did not say he would do.

Corriveau then called on Romney to be more up-front about his intentions for schools.

“It’s time he stop playing politics with our kids’ education,” said Corriveau. “If Mitt Romney has different plans for education, Granite Staters deserve to know about it.”

THERE’S NOT A LOT of glory in buildings management, but when you save the city $800,000 and cut energy consumption by 15 percent, it’s worth noting.

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency gave Facilities Director Kevin O’Maley the Environmental Merit Award for 2011 for his work reducing energy consumption in 42 city buildings over the past five years. The award is given to those who have shown ingenuity and commitment to preserving the environment. O’Maley was one of 100 nominees; others included Gary Hirschberg, the former Stonyfield CEO, and Scott Hilton, the state official in charge of cleaning up the former Pease Air Force Base, once considered one of the most contaminated Superfund sites in New England.


PASSING A NEW ORDINANCE in this city is a lengthy process that even the aldermen — and sometimes this reporter — need help navigating. Ward 8 Alderman Tom Katsiantonis was under the impression that the April 17 vote on the prison and halfway house ordinance was the final action on the issue, which this column reported two weeks ago. Not so, according to the City Clerk’s Office. The ordinance, limiting new private prisons to an area near the airport, had to “lay over” for a few days after the April 17 vote and must get another vote of approval from the aldermen on Tuesday for it to be enacted.

Katsiantonis has been a vocal opponent of the ordinance because it could potentially put a private prison in his ward. He also pointed out the ordinance would allow privately run halfway houses in Wards 3 and 9.

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