10/19/07

Reynolds teachers strike: Day 8

There was no word late Thursday on whether the Reynolds Area School Board and Reynolds Education Association had settled a new contract or if the teachers union will remain on strike. The board and union met starting at 8 p.m. and both sides had said they were willing to stay all night if necessary.

The negotiations session was to be led by a state-appointed mediator, who will make suggestions if needed.

The mood on the Reynolds teachers picket line was upbeat at lunchtime Thursday as union members hoped a new contract would be settled. “We’re glad we’re meeting (Thursday night). We’re eternal optimists,” said Barbara P. Henning, a representative of the Pennsylvania State Education Association who is part of the union’s bargaining team.

Union members chose not to attend Wednesday’s school board meeting in hopes that their decision would set a positive tone for the bargaining session, she said.
“I believe a fair contract is achievable here,” she said.

If there was some progress but no settlement, it’s hard to say if the teachers will continue striking, Ms. Henning said.

Several parents at the board meeting said the teachers should call off the strike and continue negotiations while school is in session.

“We were bargaining while the kids were in school and we weren’t making any progress,” Ms. Henning said.

Dr. Charles Steele, a Pittsburgh lawyer and the board’s chief negotiator, gave a presentation at the board meeting that reviewed contract negotiations.

He also gave the union an ultimatum: make a reasonable settlement offer Thursday or agree to return to school and begin the arbitration process.

“We’re going to be at the arbitration process at the end of the strike anyway,” Ms. Henning said.

The union is allowed to strike until Nov. 2 in order to complete 180 days of classes by June 15. The union has said teachers will remain on the picket line until then unless a new contract is settled or any tentative agreements are made.

The teachers are required by state law to return to work after Nov. 2, then the union and board must enter into nonbinding arbitration and an arbiter will help settle a new contract.

Board members said Wednesday their main concern is to get the students back in school and they hope the union is prepared to join the board in a compromise.

The union has been negotiating with the board since January 2006 and its 100 members have been working without a contract since the 2006-07 school year.

The two sides last met Oct. 8 but failed to settle a new contract because of unresolved issues including salary, health care and retiree benefits. The teachers went on strike Oct. 9.

(sharonherald.com)

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