The Boston Teachers Union, frustrated that negotiations for a new contract have dragged on for 16 months, filed a request for state intervention Tuesday afternoon, saying the talks had hit an impasse, according to a copy of the filing.
The union made its request with the state Department of Labor Relations, which will bring in a mediator to help the two sides reach an agreement. More than a dozen issues remain unresolved, including pay raises, class sizes, and job security for teachers who lose positions due to school closures, budget cuts, or other structural changes, according to the filing.
The move came hours after the union told its membership in a morning news bulletin that it was “taking legal action” against the School Department for allegedly not bargaining in good faith. The union’s most recent contract expired last August.
“We can’t get the school system to sit down and resolve things,” Richard Stutman, the union’s president, said in an interview. “It’s not healthy and shows disrespect for our more than 6,000 members.”
In the news bulletin, Stutman blamed Superintendent Tommy Chang and the School Committee for the stalemate, writing that “both the Boston School Committee and the superintendent have shown total indifference to settling the contract.”
He also criticized them for putting an outside consultant in charge of the talks.
Chang declined an interview request and instead issued a statement.
“I have been involved from the very beginning and remain deeply committed to this important process,” Chang said. “I am confident that we have made reasonable financial proposals, in exchange for reasonable reform requests, and we welcome the opportunity to resume discussions if the [union] is interested in returning to the bargaining table.”
The School Department denied an outside consultant is handling the negotiations.
This is the second time in five years that contract talks have gone into mediation. Negotiations for the previous contract collapsed in March 2012, after 21 months, leading both sides to declare an impasse and to seek state mediation. A contract finally was settled six months later.
Under mediation, the two sides gather in separate rooms and a state mediator shuttles between them in hopes of finding common ground. The mediation is nonbinding, unlike the process police and fire unions use for arbitration.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh called the union’s move for state mediation “unfortunate.”
“The City of Boston has been able to reach agreements with two of its largest unions without public battles,” Walsh said. “I am disappointed that the Boston Teachers Union has decided to walk away from the table and release misleading information about negotiations.”
Stutman had hoped to have a contract settled before he retires at the end of next month, but he said that appears unlikely. In order for a contract to be settled by then, a deal would need to be struck by May 31 so it could be ready for a membership vote at the union’s monthly meeting on June 14.
The union has accused the city of gender bias in the talks, noting that the city concluded talks with the male-dominated patrolman’s union at a much faster pace and agreed to pay raises more generous than what is being offered to the teachers union, where about three-quarters of the members are women.
The city has denied any bias in the talks. The average teacher salary in Boston is more than $90,000. Patrolmen make on average $80,000, excluding overtime.
The union and the School Department have met more than 30 times in formal negotiating sessions in the last 16 months, most recently on May 1. But, according to the union, the two sides are nowhere close to resolving their differences.
“The existence of an impasse on so many issues, the considerable efforts made to date to achieve a successful agreement over the extended duration of negotiations, and the number of affected employees all mitigate in favor of the prompt investigation of this impasse,” the union’s attorney, Matthew E. Dwyer, wrote in the filing.
Stutman chided Chang earlier in the day for attending only one or two negotiating sessions. He made a similar complaint five years ago against former superintendent Carol R. Johnson when talks at that time were falling apart.
Chang did not address his attendance record in his statement.
Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a government watchdog organization funded by businesses and nonprofits, noted that the failure to reach an agreement will delay the implementation of any measure that winds up in the contract that aims to bolster teacher quality.
“Students don’t have two or three years to wait,” he said.
But he added the deal needs to be affordable, saying, “It’s not as if the city has an open checkbook to settle a contract.”James Vaznis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.