Planned MEA mediation session canceled after mediator gets sick

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MANCHESTER, NH –  A mediation session between the school board’s negotiation committee and Manchester Education Association which was to take place Thursday will be rescheduled, after the mediator could not attend due to illness.

School board At-Large member and negotiation committee chairman Richard Girard. File photo/Andrew Sylvia

School board member Richard Girard, who serves as chair of the school committee’s negotiation team, released a statement Thursday in which he acknowledged that the MEA requested to meet without the mediator. Girard said the committee decided it would be best to reschedule with the mediator, citing MEA’s prior request for third-party intervention to reach an agreement.

“We aren’t sure how we got to mediation considering the MEA released a statement announcing the progress we had made just two weeks before, saying they wanted mediation,”Girard wrote. “We have told the MEA that we will gladly resume negotiations if they believe there has been a change in circumstances that now leads them to believe they can move forward despite their declaration of impasse.”

MEA President Sue Hannan said she was surprised to learn that Girard had issued a statement, which she described as breaking an agreement between the two sides that any statements released on negotiations would be done jointly.

MEA President Sue Hannan

“I find it hard to believe that the Board committee was surprised that we suggested mediation. We had had a difficult time agreeing on a salary schedule that was palatable to both sides. We expressed our reservations about the compensation package. We informed the Board of the inability to ratify their proposals. We are not at impasse,” Hannan said in a statement released late Thursday. “Asking for mediation is a positive step toward finding a middle ground and introducing creative solutions to consider.”

She said despite the mediator being unavailable, the MEA was “very willing” to utilize the day as planned for a session.

“The BOSC committee and the MEA were encouraged by the mediator to meet without him and reschedule a time with him if necessary. Mr. Girard indicated that his team felt that the meeting without the mediator was unlikely to yield any constructive results. MEA was very disappointed in that statement,” Hannon said.

In explaining MEA’s position on mediation, Hannan wrote:

“MEA and BOSC had a very difficult time scheduling another meeting after our last one in January. MEA believed that since we had a scheduled meeting where everyone would be there, it might be a good time to really work out the issues. Most of our meetings are scheduled for three hours or less, so having an entire day would have been ideal to really hammer out some agreements, at least about rights and working conditions. MEA did indicate progress earlier in January when both sides were working toward a common goal. The dynamic changed and MEA felt that the productivity had faltered. MEA is hopeful to develop a collective bargaining agreement that will be beneficial to both sides.”

Girard noted that the negotiations committee was actively negotiating with the teams representing the district’s paraprofessionals, principals and directors and coordinators.

“Those talks have been very productive and we’re hopeful they will be successfully concluded in the near future,” wrote Girard.  He said there’s been recent correspondence with the team representing the district’s support staff, which has reached agreement with the committee on several items.

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