By TED SIEFER
New Hampshire Union Leader
MANCHESTER — The teachers union has narrowly approved a new contract, potentially bringing to an end a two-year stalemate between the district and the educators.
The Manchester Education Association ratified the agreement Tuesday evening, according to union President Ben Dick.
Dick declined to release or discuss details of the contract until the boards of aldermen and school committee have a chance to review and vote on it. “I want to make sure the process is completed. I’m hopeful the two boards will ratify it,” Dick said, adding, “I think it allows us to move forward as a district and city.”
Mayor Ted Gatsas, who represented the district alongside its top administrators in the negotiations, said he believed the contract would bring savings to the city and was “fair to both sides.”
The teachers, who make up the largest public employee union in the city, have been working without a contract since last summer, after several rounds of negotiations failed to yield an agreement.
District officials have sought to get the teachers to agree to health care concessions similar to those made by city workers that have increased premium contribution rates from the single digits to 15 to 20 percent.
In turn, the district has committed to salary increases. In past proposals, this has proven less compelling for veteran teachers who are already at the top of the salary scale. About half of the city’s teachers are at the top of the 14-step pay schedule.
The teachers most recently rejected a tentative agreement in May by a 2-to-1 margin. Dick said the vote on the latest contract was close.
Concerns about teacher health care costs have been compounded in recent months with the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, which, starting in 2018, will impose a “Cadillac tax” on employers who offer unusually expensive health plans.
The city’s health care consultant has warned that the school district could be hit with a more than $5 million tax bill in 2018 if its current health plans remained in place.
Gatsas said the latest contract does not resolve the Cadillac tax problem, but he was hopeful that the issue could be addressed before the penalty kicks in.
“It’s difficult to get everything you want in one contract, and hopefully we can get our federal delegation to get us a waiver,” Gatsas said, referring to a request he’s made to exempt the city from the Cadillac penalty.
The contract is expected to be reviewed by the aldermen at their meeting next week.