MEDFORD, MA. – The Medford school nurses filed for mediation with the Massachusetts Division of Labor Relations after trying repeatedly to work with Superintendent Roy Belson and the school committee to resolve the long-outstanding contract issue of pay equity with teachers and other professionals in the school system. Mediation was filed on June 14.
The school nurses, who believed they had made significant headway on the issue of pay equity during their last contract talks, have endured repeated delays since filing to reopen their contract in October of 2011, which was a full eight months ahead of the existing contract’s expiration date. Instead, for almost a full year and a half, the Medford School District failed to answer related written requests, telephone calls and, overall, failed to meet its obligation to bargain with the school RNs.
Finally, in February of 2013, the nurses were contacted by the school district, and the first negotiation session got underway on March 21. Since then, things have remained stalled:
· During prior negotiations, the school committee and superintendent made a commitment to resolve the long outstanding issue of pay equity. As a result, the nurses developed and presented a cost-neutral proposal for pay equity early in the current negotiations.
· The superintendent and school committee have given no definitive response to their prior commitment to pay equity or the nurses’ current proposal.
The Massachusetts Department of Education (DESE) has, for eighteen years, required school nurses to obtain the same education as teachers, social workers, psychologists, librarians, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and adjustment counselors. If any of these groups (including school nurses) failed to obtain or maintain their mandated requirements they were ineligible for further employment.
While Medford pays its teachers, social workers, psychologists, etc. exactly the same, it excludes its school nurses and pays them almost 20% less. The mayor, school committee, and superintendent offer no explanation for this discriminatory treatment. The nurses’ proposal, which is on the table, would cost no more to implement than the salaries due under the present discriminatory system.
“We feel we have an irrefutable case to make in mediation given the vital role we play in our school system, and in view of the fact that school nurses have the exact same level of education and certification requirements as other professionals in the system,” said Lucinda Riggin-Jay, RN, chair of the nurses’ local bargaining unit. “Yet, we are not paid as professionals. In fact, we aren’t even being treated like professionals at the table in these current negotiations.”
The 11 school nurses are responsible for providing full nursing coverage to 10 schools, housing a total population of more than 5,000 students who depend on the professional health services we deliver to be safe, stay well and be prepared to learn.