BRISTOL — “We’d rather talk than walk,” read the signs that a group of more than 100 teachers in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union held up along Main Street in downtown Bristol on Monday and Tuesday afternoons.
Despite sub-zero temperatures on Monday, members of the Addison Northeast Education Association (ANEA) picketed as planned in hopes that their demonstration might bring the ANeSU school boards back to bargaining table.
Teachers had been working without a contract since the previous contract expired at the end of last June. At the beginning of this month, however, after nearly eight months of failed negotiations, the boards decided to impose a contract.
Though a contract has already been imposed for the remainder of the 2010-2011 school year, teachers hope the boards will continue to negotiate the terms.
“Negotiations are not done until both sides agree,” said Mount Abe teacher Heather Parkhurst, lead negotiator of ANEA. “Regardless of which side they fall on, most people are onboard with the idea of going back to the table.”
According to ANeSU Superintendent Evelyn Howard, as of Wednesday, members of the school boards had made no move to schedule a meeting following the pickets.
“The boards have not met and have not planned for a meeting so I cannot speak to their intent or lack of intent,” Howard said.
Parkhurst said that around 130 teachers and members of the community showed up both Monday and 110 on Tuesday for the outdoor picketing.
“We’ve also gotten a lot of support from community members as they are driving by,” Parkhurst said. “People are driving by, honking, waving and showing their support.”
According to Parkhurst, teachers hope to encourage the boards to return to the negotiating table, but if this effort fails, she said, a job action (possibly a strike) may be taken.
“It’s our only step left really,” she said. “We have informational picketing today and tomorrow and we will be meeting later on this week to talk about our next steps and a strike is the next step.”
Parkhurst said that teachers would rather not see the school year disrupted.
“We’d rather talk than walk,” she said. “We’d like to go back to the table to reach a settlement.”
According to Howard, the boards are prepared to move forward and begin the negotiating process for next year’s contracts, but teachers are still looking to alter those terms that have been imposed on them for this school year.
“A lot of board members have been saying, ‘We really want to get together and make it better next time,’” Parkhurst said. “Our response is to start now. It’s not about next time. This time isn’t over yet.”
Tamara Hilmes is at firstname.lastname@example.org.