Educators laud decision ruling Springfield wage freeze illegal

Springfield educators -- and educators across the state -- are applauding today's ruling by Hampden Superior Court Justice Constance M. Sweeney declaring illegal the wage freeze imposed on city educators in 2003-2004.

The case was argued on behalf of the Springfield Education Association and Springfield Administrators Association by Massachusetts Teachers Association attorney Sandra Quinn on July 12.

SEA President Timothy Collins said he and his 2,400 members were "extremely gratified by Judge Sweeney's ruling." He also expressed confidence that the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission would overturn the wage freeze imposed on educators in 2004-2005 and continued in 2005-2006 by Gov. Mitt Romney's Finance Control Board.

Collins noted that the Control Board, which took charge of city finances in July 2004, "has followed the same illegal procedures in imposing its wage freeze" as former Mayor Michael Albano did when he froze educators' wages in 2003.

SAA President Rosemary Kalloch -- whose approximately 140 members have had their wages frozen for five years, one year longer than the teachers -- called Sweeney's decision "a positive step that shows that the system works."

"Now I hope this positive step will move contract negotiations in a positive direction," she said.

In her ruling, Sweeney declared that city officials "had no authority under Chapter 656 to impose a wage freeze for FY 2004."

Former Mayor Albano had invoked Chapter 656 – intended by the Legislature to control over-budget spending by individual city departments – as the legal basis for imposing a wage freeze on educator salaries in 2003-2004.

Albano's action "actually violated the substantive and procedural provisions of that act," Sweeney wrote.

"The Finance Control Board also invoked Chapter 656 to freeze educator raises in July 2004 and to drastically cut educators' health insurance benefits," noted MTA General Counsel Ann Clarke. MTA attorneys, on behalf of SEA, filed unfair labor practice complaints in November and December 2004, challenging the Control Board's freeze and benefits cuts. The complaints are pending before the MLRC.

Sweeney condemned the misuse of Chapter 656 in extremely forceful language, writing: "It is painfully clear that in 1993 Mayor Albano, along with CFO [Donna] Williams, twisted the clear meaning and purpose of Chapter 656 … and instead of using the law for its intended purpose, used it to cut a broad swath across municipal finance law and protect themselves from making difficult, sensible and discrete budgetary decisions to produce a legitimate balanced budget.

"They turned the law on its head," Sweeney concluded.

The judge has summoned the parties to a hearing in December to determine the total amount owed to educators, including step and column increases and, possibly, interest. For all three years of frozen wages, it is estimated that teachers and administrators are owed approximately $16.1 million.

MTA President Catherine A. Boudreau urged the Control Board to "move immediately to pay the frozen wages and make Springfield educators whole."

"There is a very clear legal and moral obligation to pay these men and women the raises that were bargained in good faith," she said.