10/16/07

Another school union strike brewing in PA

Repeating the rallying cry that they’ve had an expired contract since 2001, the Crestwood (PA) School District support staff authorized its negotiating team to call a strike if deemed appropriate, a union spokesman said.

But a school board member countered some of the union’s claims, noting that many of the 130 support staffers received raises at least once since the contract expired.

Union lead negotiator John Holland, the regional field director for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said the support staff voted to authorize a strike during a Sunday meeting. Holland stressed it doesn’t mean they will strike, just that they can if the negotiating team decides a strike is necessary.

State law requires at least 48 hours notice before a strike, but Holland said “our intent is to always give more than 48 hours,” so families could prepare and so taxpayers could get involved if they wanted to.

The support staff union includes cafeteria workers, aides, custodians and monitors, most of whom make less than $19,000 a year, Holland said. The relatively low pay is a big reason the union is unhappy with the board’s latest offer. Holland said the board proposed a 3 percent raise but asked employees to pay part of their health insurance premium. In some cases, he said, the co-pay would nearly wipe out the raise.

Holland also said the board has offered a $400 signing bonus to employees, but that the offer only extended to those hired before the last contract expired. And he reiterated his claim that board member Gene Mancini has violated state labor law by making a “secret proposal” rather than going through the negotiating team.

Mancini dismissed the “secret proposal” charge again, insisting he simply provided the union with some highlights of what had already been offered, and that he had publicly suggested he and union President Dominic Azzara sit down every night and talk until a settlement is reached.

Mancini said Holland doesn’t have his facts straight. For starters, he said, the four-year offer includes a 6 percent raise the first year and a 3 percent hike every year for the duration of the contract. It includes a $400 per year signing bonus for most employees, retroactive to the 2001-02 school year, which would total $2,000 for those who were employed in 2001-02 if the contract were signed this year.

It covers all employees except a few groups that already received raises because of a “partial tentative agreement” reached more than a year ago.

That agreement covered the aides and monitors, and was hammered out because those workers were not members of the union when the last contract expired, Mancini said. Their salaries were too low to attract new employees, so they got a significant boost, from about $7.25 an hour to as high as $10 an hour, depending on the job.

Mancini noted that those in the union received a raise the first year after the contract expired through a one-year extension negotiated by both sides. He said the premium sharing proposal is the same the teachers agreed to: 4 percent of the premium or 1 percent of pay, whichever is lower.

No support staff member would pay more than 1 percent of his or her salary, he said.

The proposal offers to change support staff coverage to match teacher insurance, which would mean better coverage for some union members, Mancini said.

And he repeated his offer to sit down nightly with Azzara to reach an agreement.

He contended the real sticking point between the union and the board is Holland. If the two sides sat down without lawyers, he predicted, they would settle easily. Noting that Holland recently promised to file an unfair labor practice complaint against him, Mancini said “You know how they call Osama (or Usama) Bin Laden UBL? I call John Holland UFL, Un-Fair Labor. He’s a contract terrorist.”

(timesleader.com)

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