Union officials reacted skeptically Thursday to a Buffalo Public Schools proposal to set aside $32.8 million for contract settlements that would end the three-year wage freeze and increase salaries across the board.
"The idea is nice, but when you get to the details, that's when things start to fall apart," said James F. Gallagher, president of the district's 500-member white-collar union. "Their intentions seem to be good, but intentions don't buy more bread or milk at the grocery store."
Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore said the BTF and the district remain far apart in contract talks and suggested that the $32.8 million package was unveiled Wednesday largely for public relations purposes.
"It's easy to talk for public consumption," Rumore said. "But then when you get to the table the secret becomes that they want unacceptable concessions and they want to gut our contract."
The district proposal -- backed unanimously by School Board members -- revolves around a $32.8 million fund designed to cement contracts with eight district unions and to persuade the state control board to lift its 3-year-old wage freeze.
It would require unions to agree to single carrier health insurance and other unspecified concessions, while district administrators seek savings in other non-contractual areas.
The plan is a potentially pivotal initiative to settle contracts that expired nearly three years ago, boost staff morale and allow the district to focus on academic improvement rather than labor strife, according to Gary M. Crosby, the district's chief operations and financial officer.
"This is a sincere effort on our part to show them exactly what we have to work with," Crosby said. "We want this to be not only negotiations, but a collaborative process. We want to see the wage freeze lifted."
Rumore urged the district to continue negotiating with the BTF through the state's Public Employment Relations Board and to take a more reasonable stance.
"We're not even close in the negotiations," he said. Gallagher said the white-collar union made a proposal in October but hasn't heard back from district negotiators.
Crosby disagreed, saying several positions have been exchanged.