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BTA members picket BOCES board meeting over contract

Charles Pritchard
Staff writer
email / twitter
Posted 10/14/22

Members of the Oneida County BOCES Teachers Association and their supporters picketed outside the Middle Settlement Academy meeting place of the BOCES Cooperative Board Wednesday.

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BTA members picket BOCES board meeting over contract

Posted

UTICA — Members of the Oneida County BOCES Teachers Association (BTA) and their supporters picketed outside the Middle Settlement Academy meeting place of the BOCES Cooperative Board Wednesday to tell the board they are frustrated with ongoing — and seemingly fruitless — negotiations to secure a contract.

They have now worked two years without one, BTA President Dede Giffune said. This was their first time picketing, she added.

“We have a lot of essential workers who have been working through a pandemic and are all doing more than our full-time jobs,” Giffune explained.

There have been two mediation sessions so far and the BTA members don’t feel the negotiations are moving along constructively, Giffune said. Their next negotiation session is Nov. 4 and if that doesn’t go well the picketers will get their signs back out to protest again, she promised.

The picketers held signs Wednesday that read “Honk for the BTA,” “Livable wages for teaching assistants” and “Honk for teachers,” encouraging and often receiving horn honking from passing vehicles.

Alternative education teacher Nicole Estey’s sign read, “Frontline some of us didn’t make it home ... 22 years of loyal service to children of OHM.” A photo of her friend Veronica Evans was at the bottom. Evans was a teaching assistant with the alternative education program at Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES who passed away in January 2021.

Teaching assistant Oscar Grimes hoisted a sign that read, “I eat Ramen because of you,” telling board members his low wage leads to buying inexpensive meal items.

His message to the board was simple. “We would just like a fair contract and to be heard,” Grimes said.

The Oneida County BOCES Teachers Association includes OHM BOCES-employed teachers, teaching assistants and nurses located in the New Hartford, Westmoreland and Waterville districts. They do not include individuals directly hired and employed by those districts.

The BOCES Cooperative Board members are from each of its 12 component school districts of Oneida-Herkimer-Madison BOCES, including Brookfield, Clinton, Holland Patent, New York Mills, New Hartford, Oriskany, Remsen, Sauquoit Valley, Utica, Waterville, Westmoreland and Whitesboro.

OHM BOCES serves school districts in a 549 square-mile area including Oneida, Herkimer and Madison counties.

Giffune spoke during the board meeting, joined by her supporters in the meeting room, telling the board members the new school year was “off to a rough start.” Morale is down and the teachers are feeling like they are “bulging at the seams with students,” Giffune told them.

After two years, the union members are not really feeling like their voices are being heard in the contract negotiations, she explained.

“We have members feeling we have been pushed off,” Giffune said.

While BOCES Cooperative Board President Russell Stewart said he had “the utmost respect” for the group, he said he could offer no response to them at this time as the matter is in mediation.

Giffune reminded the board of the importance of the BTA members to the education of the students.

“We are BOCES and you can’t be BOCES without us,” Giffune told the board.

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