Opinion

SCOT LEHIGH

Boston Teachers Union’s tall tale

Boston, MA - 12/13/2016 - Portrait of Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman who is stepping down in June. - (Barry Chin/Globe Staff), Section: Metro, Reporter: James Vaznis, Topic: 14btu, LOID: 8.3.994096604.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Richard Stutman.

A certain annoyance has crept into Boston Teachers Union President Richard Stutman’s voice.

It’s the peeved pitch a pedagogical pressure-group president produces when a pesky columnist calls after a newspaper story has left self-same union chief looking somewhat silly.

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The back story: With considerable fanfare, Stutman this week filed to take the Boston teachers contract negotiations into mediation, accusing the city of not bargaining in good faith and showing a “total indifference to settling the contract.”

Problem: The city then sent around an e-mail chain which showed city negotiators willing — eager, even — to meet and negotiate. And which further revealed one Richard Stutman nixing a request by David Sweeney, the city’s chief financial officer, for another May negotiating session. There was, Stutman e-mailed in reply, “No point,” adding: “Have already spoken to Ross” Wilson, the school department’s chief negotiator. “Am afraid you’ve let the clock run out for immediate discussions. We can resume in June or July.” The Boston Herald reported on that exchange, though with the two middle sentences replaced with ellipses.

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Now, having one’s story revealed as so much eyewash is inconvenient indeed to a union chief trying to portray the city as the problem. Sadly, though Stutman clearly thinks he’s sly as a fox, his tactics are actually pretty transparent. Still, credit where it’s due: Stutman is certainly patient as a hedgehog, willing to wait and delay until the moment is right.

I observe that his claim of city foot-dragging hasn’t held up particularly well.

Stutman says that I’m being accusatory. I note that he sounds kind of whiny.

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We are, I fear, off to a(nother) rocky start.

Stutman says his e-mail was edited. Not by City Hall, though. And besides, the Herald’s shortening really didn’t change anything: The city was still ready to meet. And it was still Stutman who replied: “No point.”

There are, of course, other reasons to be skeptical that City Hall is the impediment here. Marty Walsh is a labor-friendly mayor; labor relations are considerably better than they were under his predecessor, Tom Menino. (Why, through the dim recesses of history, I even recall a certain BTU union chief urging his members to vote for Walsh in an election-day robocall.)

The city says it’s offered the teachers a package that amounts to a 2 percent per year raise for each of four years. The BTU wants what the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association got, which was nominally 2 percent per year, but actually considerably larger with the various sweeteners. (Stutman also thinks AFSCME got a better deal than the BTU is being offered, though that’s less clear.)

Now, it’s certainly true that public safety unions get bigger raises than the city’s other unions. That’s because, for reasons that defy logic, they have binding arbitration, which means if the city can’t get a deal done at the table, there’s a good chance that an out-to-lunch arbitrator will give away the store.

I have some suggestions I’d like to offer. Like, say, if the BTU agrees to a way to dismiss teachers who can’t find a lead classroom role after several years, those savings of $7 million or so could be rolled into the contract. And if teachers would extend their day and year further, that too might merit a bigger bump.

Stutman, however, doesn’t want to discuss negotiations, noting that he’s never gotten anywhere with me. And in fairness, it is true that over long years of watching him sandbag reforms the BTU has ostensibly agreed to, I have become something of a Stut-o-skeptic.

“Scot, have a nice day,” Richard says. And hangs up.

You too, Richard. You too.

But please, could you dial down the baloney?

Scot Lehigh can be reached at lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.
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