BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo teachers showed solidarity on Wednesday as they rallied outside of Buffalo City Hall for a new union agreement. The Buffalo Teachers Federation (BTF) took to the pavement calling on Superintendent Dr. Tonja Williams and the District to come to the bargaining table.
To the chant of “If you love our students, pay our teachers” and “What do we want? New contract,” members of the BTF marched with signs outlining their demands. NYSUT and teachers from other school districts also rallied in support.
The Union has not successfully negotiated a new contract with the district since 2019. They claim teachers in Buffalo are making less money than surrounding districts and that it takes Buffalo teachers longer to reach maximum salary than in other schools. They say they are not being paid a fair wage and that with inflation, the proposed deal by Buffalo Public Schools is a slap in the face.
“We’re hopeful that now that there’s a new superintendent, that when we return to negotiations with the fact finder that there will be a change in attitude,” Phil Rumore, Buffalo Teachers Federation president, said.
Superintendent Williams stepped out of her seventh floor City Hall Office to address those that were rallying. She says she wants a new deal because the teachers deserve it and she believes both sides need to come together.
“Our teachers work hard. We appreciate that and we see that, which is why I wanted to come out of my office and come down and let them know that we do support them,” Dr. Williams said.
Teachers say this is the first time a superintendent has ever stood on the steps of City Hall with them at a rally to listen to their concerns. The teachers thought this was a huge step forward.
Morale among teachers is low, according to Rumore, and many are frustrated with the contract negotiation process.
“We’re the ones on the front lines. We’re there. We’re teaching and everyone around us has gotten a new contract except us,” Mary Favata, special education teacher at International Preparatory School, added.
Superintendent Williams says she has successfully struck deals with 10 of the 11 unions in the District. She has worked on four since she took over the District in March. Officials say they want to sit at the table.
“We have to work collaboratively and it doesn’t have to be as antagonistic as it’s been in the past,” Nathaniel Kuzma, general counsel for Buffalo Public Schools, said.
Teachers want Buffalo Public Schools to be a premier education destination for students and staff, but because of low wages, the District cannot attract and retain teachers.
“It’s really a great place to be. On the flip side, if I was just starting out, I would tell someone you may want to consider other districts for this reason,” Sami Cirpili, teacher at Hutchinson Central Technical High School, said.
Rumore says the union has filed charges against the District with the Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), accusing Buffalo Public Schools of unfair bargaining. They say the negotiations have been delayed significantly since the contract expired in 2019.
“We are way behind all of the other districts around us. If they’re not going to give us a contract now, they’re full of cash they’ve got a surplus, when are they going to give us a contract?” Chris Gelsomino, a teacher at Frederick Law Olmsted High School, told News 4.
Students will return to the classroom Sept. 6 and some teachers are entering their fourth school year without a new deal.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.