Union seeks to target committee
FRAMINGHAM — In an attempt to make the town’s School Committee “feel the same stresses that we have,” the union representing Framingham teachers has urged its members to volunteer personal information they know about committee members, including what health clubs they belong to, and where their spouses work.
The move, perceived by school administrators as an escalation tactic in ongoing contract negotiations, initially unnerved some School Committee members and their families, including the wife of chairman David Miles.
“My wife was a little more alarmed than I was. She went into mother mode,” said Miles, whose son attends Framingham High School. “I’ve never seen anything like that before. I was perplexed by it. Of course you can think bad thoughts right away, ‘What are they going to do with that information on my wife and kids?’ But of course I don’t think they would do something dangerous or harmful.”
In a memo e-mailed to some of the 1,018 union members, which includes almost 800 teachers, Framingham Teachers’ Association president Sam Miskin accused the School Committee of “trying to stay protected” by “distancing themselves from the issues.” He suggested a change in the union’s actions that would focus directly on the School Committee.
“Many of us have felt some degree of stress in coming to work due to the contract struggles and it is not right that the committee put this on us,” Miskin wrote. “For all of the stress we have felt, we owe it to the committee to return the favor. . . . The focus will now be on making the committee feel the same stresses that we have.”
Miskin issued a statement Thursday evening in which he said the concerns about the campaign had “been blown out of proportion.”
“For any misunderstanding about the intent, I apologize,” Miskin said. “We are teachers — we put kids first every single day in our classrooms and schools. We are not out to hurt anyone — and we are certainly not going to involve children. EVER.”
In his memo to fellow teachers, Miskin directed them to an online link of a survey containing pages individually dedicated to each of the seven members of the Framingham School Committee. Below each name were blank boxes for the members’ personal contact information, employer information, length of time on the committee, membership to other groups within and outside the town, gym membership, names of their spouse or partner, and their work information. The survey also contained a larger space labeled “Other,” presumably for members to provide more information.
“To begin this process, I need any/all information you know about each of the school committee members,” Miskin said in the note. “Having as much information as possible about their lives, activities, and daily routines is crucial to design actions that will truly impact them.”
In his statement Thursday, Miskin said the point of gathering information was to determine if School Committee members traveled in the same social circles as union members, so the two sides could exchange views outside the atmosphere of a negotiating session.
“The opportunity for members to converse with the School Committee outside of the school setting is beneficial to our cause,” Miskin said.
Miles, who has been a member of the School Committee for 12 years, said he always anticipates some form of union action during negotiations, like the time several years ago some members held a peaceful picket in front of his house. But, he said, he has never seen anything like the personal information request.
“If they want to be in front of my house when I go to the gym at 5 a.m. — I really don’t know what they would’ve done,” Miles said. “I can’t see them sending teams of picketers to the YMCA, or a church, or synagogue. I really don’t know what they planned to do with that information.”
School Superintendent Stacy L. Scott said he was concerned about the tone and timing of the memo.
“We’re eager to conclude contract negotiations so our focus can return to the needs of the students,” Scott said. “I’m concerned for those who may feel personally attacked in this process. I’m concerned for our teachers who are experiencing significant stress during this process, and our School Committee members who may feel personally at risk.”
Scott said he wasn’t certain why the teachers’ association would want to escalate its tactics now, considering that he believes both sides are very close to agreeing on a contract.
“On most accounts we are coming down to the wire,” he said, “We have a substantial agreement on the elements of the financial package.”
Last school year, Framingham teachers agreed to a one-year contract with the district, consenting to a short time frame because of the town’s budget concerns. That contract expired last August. Negotiations on a new three-year contract began in February of last year and quickly went to mediation, said Scott.
Among the major issues are a cost of living wage increase, a clear definition of what constitutes a full workday, limiting class sizes, and language for a new state-mandated teacher evaluation system.
An English teacher at Cameron Middle School said Thursday that he does not support the request to gather the personal information about School Committee members. He declined to give his name because he said he lives in the town, and the negotiations have polarized residents.
“My initial thought was that this is way too far,” he said. “It’s going to take away from how people in town view us, and I don’t think that that call for that type of action is representative of most people and what most teachers want to do, so I was surprised.”