10/9/07

Teachers union will blow off pre-strike tension in PA

Frustrated over a lack of progress during negotiations, the Seneca Valley Education Association said yesterday it will go on strike on Monday. "Our people would much rather have an agreement," said Butch Santicola, a Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman representing the teachers union. "But the teachers are sort of relieved to get this over with."

The 575 teachers in the district have been working without a contract since June 30, 2006. In August, the teachers voted overwhelmingly to authorize union leaders to call a strike if negotiations did not progress. Since that time, numerous offers and counter-offers have been made by both parties, all of which were not accepted for various reasons. The biggest areas of contention are salary and benefits. District officials requested fact finding but later voted down the fact finder's report, stating his suggested salary increases were too high.

The fact finder recommended salary increases of 3.9 percent for the first two years, 4.3 percent for the third year and 4.7 percent for the final two years of a five-year contract. The average teacher's salary in the district is $54,949.

The district has offered an average 4 percent annual increase for all five years of a new contract. Teachers had originally asked for roughly 7 percent increases per year, but later made a new offer, requesting an average of 6 percent per year.

Tom King, an attorney representing the district in negotiations, said the district isn't surprised the teachers have decided to strike.

"They only had three choices: take what was offered, go on strike or go back to the bargaining table," he said. "I think they chose the worst of the three choices, but that's certainly their right. I think it's a mistake, though."

Health care costs also have been a point of contention.

Formal written notice, giving the required 48 hours' notice of the union's intent to strike, will be delivered to Mr. King this morning, Mr. Santicola said.

Teachers could remain on strike until Dec. 8 unless an agreement is reached.

Seneca Valley has an enrollment of 7,580 students and includes Cranberry, Zelienople, Harmony, Seven Fields and Jackson.

(post-gazette.com)

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