What ‘work to rule’ means — and why

This blogging stuff is great. Within minutes of posting, I received an email from Susan Peckitt at Grafton Middle School, one of the teachers who is negotiating the contract.

Under Massachusetts law, and under our contract,  we cannot strike, and “work to rule”  must adhere to the Lenox ruling.  We have decided to work to rule for the period between November 3 and November 25 to express our unity as a staff of teachers whose contract negotiations have been suspended and have gone to mediation.  At stake are not only
issues of salary but also equally important issues of contract language concerning our status and our working conditions.

Working to rule means that we will not come in early nor stay late, beyond the contracted hours of the old contract, essentially a 7-hour day.  We will use our prep periods to do whatever we can to prepare for our classes and fulfill the tasks our administrators require of us.  We will teach our classes,  and we will assess their learning as we always have. We will fulfill our contractual obligations,  including serving as coaches and advisors in stipend positions.  What we won’t do is volunteer to do extra duties that are not in our contract.  We won’t have access to the resources of the school buildings outside of the contracted working day.

Working to rule should demonstrate to the community and to the administration how much more teachers do than they are required to do, and how much the social fabric of the town depends on the voluntary tasks teachers take on. Grafton teachers work a longer year and are paid significantly less than teachers in surrounding towns.  We work in overcrowded buildings with inadequate resources,  and our workload has increased considerably because of the reduction in force, the increased demands of community connection, and the increase in student population.  We have been hard pressed for years.


24 thoughts on “What ‘work to rule’ means — and why

  1. I just started reading your blog a few days ago. Found it through Wormtown Taxi. Been a Graftonian for 12+ years. You’re doing a great job…keep up the good work. I have a son in the elementary school, and I’m curious how this will effect him. Hopefully the impact will be minimal. About your earlier post regarding the middle school…my oldest son is an 8th grader. I decided not to send him to Grafton middle school (Heard a lot of nightmare stories) He attends Assumption school in Millbury and is doing great there. There are 17 kids in his class !!!! I highly recommend it. Not as expensive as I thought it would be.

  2. I think Bob C raised an interesting point about private schools in the area. I’d be curious to hear more feedback on them? Pros/cons etc.

  3. Michael,
    My experience with Assumption has been great. The pros: Small classes, one class per grade, and they don’t “Teach to the test”… they are not required to take the MCAS tests. They simply need to meet the curricula standards of the Archdiocese of Worcester. The teachers are great (No more nuns). The curriculum is much more flexible, so I think my son is learning alot more of what he needs, as apposed to what the MCAS requires.

    The cons: Transportation…if you don’t live in Millbury you have to provide your own ride to and from. The other thing is…they don’t provide any special needs programs, if your child requires such a thing. My son is textbook ADHD and was on a program at Grafton elementary. It was the #1 thing we needed to consider before deciding to send him there. (Next to tuition) After considering all of the hand-holding my wife and I had to do with the people in Grafton, the decision was easier to make. I highly recommend it…

  4. Let me first say that I did some teaching earlier in my career and, though I no longer teach, I did it long enough to know how hard teachers work and how underappreciated they are. If it were up to me, teachers would make more than the richest CEO’s in America. It is a job that has its rewards – and great ones at that – but there are components of teaching that surely are frustrating for teachers. So at one level I can understand teachers feeling that they need to take a stance and make a statement.

    However, this “work to rule” effort concerns me. It concerns me because I think it will be the kids that will feel the impact the most.

    Do the teachers not have another vehicle by which to take a stance? If so, this is a problem in its own right. I would bet the teacher discussion and vote was tense and emotional. I would bet that teachers in Grafton feel that they NEED to do this – its not just that they WANT more money. And I can’t blame them.

    But I cannot help but wonder what the teachers union considers a satisfactory outcome to this predicament? Is it a pay raise to be on par with other districts? Is it better benefits? If granted, doesn’t that money come from some other area of the already tightened school budget?

    I would love to see the teachers get a raise, but in this economy, with towns and businesses and individuals facing cuts everywhere, I am concerned that the teachers and the district are facing a difficult situation made worse by the teachers’ decision to “work to rule”. Many of our kids would say something like, “Can’t we all just get along?” I suppose that might be too simplistic to propose at this point.

  5. To break the ice, I propose that Grafton teachers are no longer REQUIRED to attain a Masters degree. The economy is too tough right now and as Chris mentioned individuals and businesses are cutting costs… and when it comes down to it, this requirement places an unfair financial/time burden on teachers (and their families). I’d love to see them get the Masters, but when the economy is tight it just isn’t fair to require it.

    If that’s agreeable, then maybe more teachers would accept a salary freeze (the Masters programs that teachers participate in unfortunately are not cutting their course costs).

  6. I’m sorry but I have a lot of friends who are teachers and I hear them complain a lot. I feel that the things they complain about are so minimal compared to people who work much longer hours/more strenuous jobs. My sister-in-law is a teacher, and my mother used to be, so I see it very closely. Teacher’s only work 9 months a year, so if you extrapolate their salary, they are getting paid better than most. They could work another job in the summer to make more money if they want, but most choose not to and rather complain about their poor pay. I’d kill to have that much vacation. Some of us are struggling in this tough economy and wish we had the pay and pention of a public school teacher. At least they still have jobs!

  7. I’m pretty sure the requirement for teachers to have (or obtain within a certain period of time) a Master’s degree is a Mass. state teaching license requirement — not something a town could “waive” on an ad hoc basis. Maybe a teacher could shed light on this……?

  8. 7 hour days, 9 months a year, all holidays paid, February break, Spring break, summers off, no after school care needed and most importantly no holiday or summer camp needed … priceless!

  9. Melissa, you are totally right. Its a Mass DOE requirement. So despite the ecomonic hard times our town is in, these teachers in Grafton will have to pay extra in order to make sure our kids get the best ecucation possible.

  10. Priceless, the gravy train has arrived!! Connie et al., it certainly is a great job, and as long as Grafton teachers Work To Rule they will have NOTHING to complain about and can simply bask in the carefree life of minimal working hours and happy family vacation time.

  11. I am all for an increase in salary if the teachers are willing to make some changes to the status quo….

    Would teachers agree to a “pay for performance” initiative and give up tenure?

    If this type of performance based system was in place would there really be a need for a teacher’s union? Personal accountability and job security based on one’s individual job performance.

    The education of our children is what’s at stake here.

    The current education system and the way we compensate teachers is broken and really needs to be overhauled. I am more than willing to support an increase in salary for our teachers as well as better working conditions for both teachers AND our children but NOT for the status quo.

  12. Connie, I am in agreement. This is part of my comment from another entry about shadowing at GMS.

    I am sure that some of the teachers are sad/disappointed about the work to rule vote since so many of them are so dedicated to their students. This will really affect these students since when I shadowed, I heard several teachers talking to kids about coming back to the class with their lunch to work on assignments, finish a test or study with the teacher. These teachers work hard but in this economy and with so many people struggling to keep a job, find a job, pay ever rising costs of health ins/health care, I have less sympathy for their plight. Lots of us do not have unions to help protect our jobs. Grafton has amazing teachers but there are a few I know of who should retire or move on and because of union, it is a real challenge for administration, who admit they want them gone (unofficially, of course), to make that happen. There aren’t many jobs that you can underperform and get away with it and plenty of jobs, especially today, where you can work your @$$ off (as our teachers do) and still lose your job or be underpaid.

    My big question is WHY WERE THE NEGOTIATIONS SUSPENDED? Is it true that the teachers suspended talks? Don’t things seem to be going really fast in terms of reactions? or have I been unaware of what’s been going on? Where are the official notices of what’s going on? Is it appropriate for high school teachers to be crying in school to the students and trying to garner support from students?

  13. One thing about performance — how do you measure it when it comes to teaching? More testing of their students? How do you differentiate between the performance of a teacher who mainly has honors students versus one who is teaching mainly kids with special needs?

  14. Been their Mom I so an rasing the roof after reading your post… Let me explain!

    So I happen to be reading up on the Worcester Rag I mean Telegram & Gazette (wow coverage about Grafton), and I happen to read about a comments posted regarding the Graton Teachers Contract at http://www.telegram.com/article/20081101/NEWS/811010333/1154/NEWSREWIND

    Someone from a neighboring town posted a comment about this article and became fired up! I been having no problems speaking my mind so here goes again!

    Wow, both sides agree to mediation to get on the progressive path and the teachers have to flex their muscles in an effort to place the burden on the pupils. Oh and for the comment about profit sharing from the T&G post, try paying medical benefits like $25 office visits, $1000 deductable on labs, oh and at 3:30 AM when you have to go the emergency room try paying $100 out of pocket. Perhaps teachers should consider dropping tenure and then talk about bonuses! I can tell you that will never happen and if you want bonuses and profit sharing, try working for a company that has to compete with global competitors! Since when does Grafton Schools have to compete with English boarding schools in London! Way to go Grafton Teachers that’s the way to show you really care, it’s only been three months working without a contract. GTA has enacted an embargo on education! I was supportive and sympatric for the GTA, I am not so sure anymore.
    I am not too sure about anything that is going on. Time to start home schooling the kids. I only have a degree and not two or three, I guess that makes me unqualifed, not to worry, I can see many teachers out of work very soon and looking to make a few bucks on the side… Hey can teachers moonlight if they are working for a school, if my company ever found out that I was moonlighting I would be so fired so fast.

  15. Let’s do some simple math so we can put the 180 working days (188 in Grafton) in perspective.

    There are about 250 working days in a year once you take out weekends, Monday and major holidays.

    Average job after 10 years, you’re probably looking at about 3 weeks of paid vacation. Once we subtract that, most of you reading this are working an estimated 235 days each year.

    A teacher in Grafton works 188. That’s a difference of 47 days. Plus, teachers don’t get paid for vacations, which in “Industry”, they would

    The average salary for a Grafton teacher is about $54,000 a year (according to the comments in the T&G). Divide that by 188 days and we’ll round up to $290 per day.

    In order to get a clearer picture of the predicament teachers face, we need to add in the 15 vacation days, which the rest of the working world would get paid for, and we are up to 67 unpaid days. That’s a difference of just under $18,000. And don’t forget the Master’s Degree and the continuing education after that, most of which is not paid for.

    So I ask this, where can a teacher, who needs to make up $18,000 in 67 days (remember, this mean they will not get any vacation), find a job that pays $290 per day and allow them to work 1 week in December, 1 in February, and 1 in April, and then throughout the summer when all the High School and College kids are out of school? In the meantime they will need time off to finish their Master’s thesis AND attend conferences or workshops to fulfill the No Child Left Behind requirements. The answer, of course, is that those jobs don’t exist. At least not in enough numbers to ensure each teacher can earn that extra money.

    Teachers work hard to do what’s best for kids. And at times, teachers need to do what’s best for their families…for their own kids, and for themselves. While contract disputes often involve money, the sticking points are more often the wording in the contract. In most cases, the money is minor in comparison to the wording. Ambiguity in the wording of a contract can lead to implementation that is not in the spirit of the contract.

    So, I ask that if you are reading or commenting on these posts, you will consider supporting the teachers as they continue to provide the top quality education that you have grown accustomed to. If you have ever had a child who came in more than 15 minutes before or after school for extra help, that teacher was giving up their time without pay to make sure your child succeeded. Would you be willing to do the same?

  16. Some of the comments on the T&G website were inflammatory and emotional for sure. I could write pages about the wonderfully dedicated teachers my children have had over the years in Grafton. There are a few that should hang it up but they won’t and the man on the hill can’t get them out either. My main issues now are:
    -How did it get to this point so fast? Who didn’t want to talk? As I hear it, the teachers called off talks last spring!!! Why? Why not work the process before taking action and demonstrating at school committee meetings, open house nights and daily with ribbons and signs etc. talking and getting emotional in the upper grade classes.
    -It is true the administration received raises (and there are some of them that sure shouldn’t get one) but the teachers get pay grade increases. I can work hard year after year at my job and be told that due to economic concerns I won’t get a raise-no cost of living, nothing. AND I am happy because gee at least I still have my job. In other job worlds an advanced degree ensures you of a better position etc. Grafton may pay less but, again as I understand it, provides more in way of prof. dev towards renewing license etc. True? We pay more and more out of pocket for health care costs and more out of paycheck for health ins. I just think the teachers are making a mistake in making this such a battle now and taking action like this in this economic climate and with so many people struggling. I don’t agree completely with the T&G commenters who says teachers don’t work hard etc. They work more than their contractual hours for sure. They have to get advanced degrees, renew licenses etc. I know this. But they have liberal vacation time, summers essentially off to work other jobs and they are working in the profession they CHOSE. In this climate a 2% raise would be a welcome for so many. I wonder what will happen when the district has to lay off teachers? Who paid attention last spring when the SC and Dr. C were proposing cuts and did in fact cut positions, for instance no computer instruction at the middle school. More cuts will be a reality. It is late and I am rambling.

  17. There has been a lot of blog print about teachers getting second jobs so that they can keep doing what they love, teaching, but also make enough money for their families so they’d gosh darn it stop complaining!

    It made me think that the teachers should include a stipulation (maybe an amendment…I love those) in their teacher contract that the Town of Grafton will subsidize a portion of bartending school. That way its perfectly fair to expect Mr. Mitchell to help our birght little stars in the morning and then serve up bevs at the PO Pub in the evening.

  18. To Been there…Mom.

    As I understand it, the talks were called off last summer because the town originally offerred a 0% raise AND no discussion on changing any of the wording in the contract. And there were several meetings over the spring and summer where there was no movement from the town. Why waste the time of everyone involved? From what I’ve been told, this went on until all of the teacher’s met this fall and attended the school committee meeting. Then the town made the offer of 2%.

    BTW- Didn’t the town just vote to purchase land for $2.1 million dollars?

  19. To Been there…Mom.

    Also, under the original proposal from the town, the teachers would not receive any pay increase. Not even a pay grade increase.

    Going on the average teacher income, a 2% raise (the latest proposal), minus taxes, will net about $3 a day.

    Please don’t forget, that “liberal vacations” are not paid, as I am sure the are at your workplace. And finding a job that pays more than minimum wage for the summer where you start after the college kids come home and end before labor day would be impossible.

    Teachers do chose their profession because of their love for kids.

    Dr. Connors and the School Committee have done a stellar job of keeping teachers. 10-12 years ago, Grafton was a town that you came to and tested the waters to gain some experience before moving on to another district like Westborough. Now, new teachers are staying much longer and Principals are spending less time filling vacant positions and more time filling newly created positions. That is a sign of a healthy work environment.

    A healthy school has a mix of both veteran teachers and new hires. Both groups learn from each other.

    Do the readers want to end the continuity a returning teacher adds to the classroom and revert back to schools full of new hires? Who will mentor all of the new teachers?

    As I stated a few posts ago, the contract is stalled on many facets, not just the money. I hope that someone who is closer to the negotiations can help clarify the types of wording issues the town would prefer to leave vague so the readers can have a clearer picture and understant that the teachers aren’t just looking for a big raise from the town. It’s a total package.

  20. Simple math wrote: BTW- Didn’t the town just vote to purchase land for $2.1 million dollars?

    Clarification from Jenn: That was using Community Preservation Act funds, which must be spent on preservation projects such as open space purchase. Comparing the two is like comparing apples to orangutans.

    And an additional note: The conversation has been mostly civil so far; please continue in that vein. Personal attacks on other posters (or me) will not be allowed and, as always, first-time posters need to be approved by me before publication.

    Bear in mind that any argument, particularly one concerning education, is only enhanced by proper spelling and attention to punctuation. Please note that constant confusion of the possessive and the plural may become a banning offense if the unemployed editor who manages this blog is in a bad mood.

  21. Simple Math-I am assuming you are a teacher. Let me be clear that my children have benefitted, for the most part, from the great teachers who give of themselves in this district.

    First the land in question was purchased with money earmarked for land conservation, right?

    Second, if you make $54,000 a year, that is $54,000 a year however you get it paid to you. What if you make minimum wage? You don’t get paid if you don’t go to work. So no, plenty of people do NOT get paid for their ‘liberal vacations’. Not all residents of this town live in mansions and have great benefits. Many people are paid hourly wages with little or no benefits. Can’t you as a teacher, have your paychecks disbursed as you wish, such as over those many weeks you don’t work? I have never said that teachers get second jobs. I do know that many of them do in the summer. Your math seems a little off to me when I consider how many of us live. $54,000/yr is a pretty decent salary, in my opinion.

    Do you know for a fact that the town didn’t offer any increase INCLUDING pay grade? That seems wrong to me since the pay grade is built in usually.

    Have the teachers discussed getting paid for performance? How would that differ? I know some younger newer teachers that should be paid more than some veteran teachers when it comes to results, forward thinking methods of teaching etc. I am NOT anti teacher and I AM pro-public school and I AM an incredible supporter of our teachers in Grafton. I just think that this is a sad state of affairs when there is very little communication, things went very quickly to this point, teachers are talking about this to their students and students are suffering and mostly that this is coming at a time when we can least afford it as individuals, town, state and country.

    Lastly, your point about doing what is best for your own families is a point well taken. I think the lack of complete sympathy to the cause of the teachers is exactly because taxpayers are anxious about doing what is best for their own families. Also I am concerned about what will happen to my children’s education when we have to cut more curriculum, teachers etc. What is the ambiguous wording that is causing problems?

  22. First, I do apologize for my lack of knowledge in regards to the land purchase. After I posted it, I realized it really isn’t pertinent and is not in the spirit of why I am contributing (see the next paragraph).

    Second, my intention is to provide an opposing view and hopefully some insight into the workings of a teacher contract. I also apologize for my misspellings. I will do a better job of spell checking. Sometimes my brain works faster than my fingers.

    Third, let me try to clarify the pay scale for teachers. New teachers start out making somewhere in the low $30,000 range. WITH a positive review, they will move to the next “Step” on the pay scale which includes a merit raise (I don’t know if that’s what they call it) along with the percentage raise that was negotiated. This happens for the first 10 years. After that, merit raises are given every 5 years. So the veteran teacher gets only the negotiated raise between years 11-14, 16-19, etc. So if the original offer was 0% over 3 years, teachers in their 11th year would get no raise, while those who move to the next “step” would receive their “step” raise only. I believe the step raise helps equalize the difference between a 2% raise at $30,000 and 2% at $54,000. So I do know for a fact that the 0% raise originally offered would have given many of the veteran teachers no extra money over the 3 year contract. But there would be some, mainly newer teachers, who would consider to receive a raise based on a positive review.

    I hope that helps. 🙂

    Fourth, I do agree that an average salary of $54,000 is a decent salary. Especially for a two teacher household. But out of that, please remember that teachers are not eligible for social security because we pay into a pension, which is not subsidized by the town like a 401K would be. This is mandated by the state. For the pension teachers pay 9% up to $30,000 in pay and 11% for anything over that. And for disbursement of pay, in Grafton, like many towns, your pay is divided up over 365 days with a lump sum in June for the summer months.

    Fifth, you are right. I am a teacher and I am in close contact with several Grafton teachers. If I may interject my own thoughts…In these economic times, I would take the 2% for 1 year, maybe 2 years and not even think twice about it. I don’t see any relief coming anytime soon and I believe that the 2% might just be as good as it gets. But in reading a copy of the current contract, I would certainly not approve a contract that hasn’t had at least some minor changes made. Unfortunately, I don’t know which paragraphs are being considered, but I would have concerns reapproving the previous contract.

    Lastly, as a parent, I would be concerned with how work to rule will affect my child’s education too. I can tell you that your child may hear a teacher explain that they can’t stay more than 15 minutes for extra help until the contract is resolved. I think that is an acceptable way to explain what is happening. I would disagree with divulging more than that. But overall, your children will still get the quality education you are used to during the school day. A teacher’s passion for children doesn’t diminish because of a contract dispute. If you still have concerns, go to a School Committee meeting and ask questions during the community input section. It’s your child’s education and you do have say.

  23. You’ll love this!


    I, for one, am sick and tired of those highly paid teachers. Their hefty salaries are driving up taxes, and they only work nine or ten months a year! It’s time we put things in perspective and pay them for what they do…baby-sit! We can get that for less than minimum wage.

    That’s right…I would give them $3.00 dollars an hour and only the hours they worked, not any of that silly planning time.

    That would be 15 dollars a day.

    Each parent should pay 15 dollars a day for these teachers to baby-sit their children. Now, how many do they teach in a day…. maybe 25.

    Then that’s 15 X 25=$375 a day.

    But remember they only work 180 days a year!

    I’m not going to pay them for any vacations.

    Let’s see…*that’s 375 x180=$67,500.00

    (Hold on, my calculator must need batteries!)

    What about those special teachers or the ones with master’s degrees?

    Well, we could pay them minimum wage just to be fair.

    Let’s round it off to $6.00 an hour. That would be $6 times 5 hours times 25 children times 180 days

    = $135,000.00 per year.

    Wait a minute, there is something wrong here!!!

    There sure is, huh????!!

    As a final note, we are looking for a fair contract and hope you understand that we don’t just baby-sit, we educate! We educate academically, socially, and behaviorally. We would also like to be treated as professionals. Keep in mind most of us put in an extra 2-3 hours per day (including weekends)!

  24. I hope that isn’t the math you’re teaching at school. I like this version…

    Assuming a $54,000 annual salary (BTW, I’d be curious what the real range is for teacher salaries),

    $54,000/180 days = $300/day divided by 7 hours equals $42.85/hour. That’s quite a bit more money than the minimum wage and a trifle bit above the average American worker in 2008 being $17.86/hour. If we alter the math to make it a 10 hour day (every day for 180 days) the hourly rate goes to down to $30.00/hour. Not bad!!!!

    Now go spin that!

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