Springfield educators win back wages

Hampden County Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney has entered a judgment awarding Springfield teachers and administrators more than $2 million in back pay, as well as interest and court costs, in their case against the City of Springfield challenging a wage freeze that began on July 1, 2003.

Judge Sweeney further ruled on March 29 that the wage freeze established that year is "void" and that interest on the damages will continue to accrue from July 1, 2003, until the judgment is paid.

This financial award follows Judge Sweeney's ruling on Nov. 29, 2005, that the wage freeze, in violation of the city's contracts with the Springfield Education Association and the Springfield Administrators' Association, was unlawful. The City not only failed to give teachers a cost-of-living increase, but also denied them agreed-upon raises based on additional years of service, known as "step" increases, and for additional college degrees or credits, known as "lane" increases.

Springfield Education Association President Timothy Collins applauded the judge's award and urged the Finance Control Board to "settle the contract and pay this judgment immediately so that teachers will begin receiving the pay they deserve and the taxpayers will not have to pay additional interest."

"This is a tremendous vindication for our members," said Collins. "We have known all along that it was unfair and unlawful to deprive teachers and administrators of the raises they had duly negotiated, and the judge agrees. This judgment puts a dollar figure on that mistake.

"This new expense to the taxpayers in Springfield could have been avoided had the Romney-Healey Control Board bargained in good faith," he continued. "Eight months ago we put a proposal on the bargaining table that would have avoided the interest and legal fees, given the Springfield educators a fair and equitable contract, and put an end to all litigation. Now is the time for the leadership in the Legislature to step up and find a speedy way to end this dispute by giving the Springfield teachers binding arbitration."

This judgment only pertains to the wages frozen during fiscal year 2004. The SEA has filed grievances and charges with the Labor Relations Commission challenging the freezing of wages for the subsequent two years.