Teachers say new board demands deadlocked contract talks

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Union claims that new changes seniority, work hours offers stopped progress to new deal

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
Unionville district teachers say that the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education introduced seniority language and a range of new demands at the 11th hour in June contract talks — torpedoing any chance of a contract settlement before a July 1 deadline for healthcare plan enrollment.

The teachers say that “slow, steady” progress had been being made on the way to a new agreement until the school board abruptly changed course — citing that the union was accepting a wage freeze for the 2010-11 school year, longer work hours and offering to pay more of their health care cost. Meanwhile, school board officials are countering that the union was merely cherry picking the proposals, when the elements are highly intertwined.

Earlier this month, the school board made public its reduced salary offer, saying that because the deadline passed, healthcare costs for the 2011-12 year would be higher than budgeted and previously offered raises — offered in May — would have to be cut back.

But now, according to a statement issued by the Unionville-Chadds Ford Education Association Monday, the Unionville-Chadds Ford Board of Education is attempting to get the union to remove seniority language in the new contract — allegedly in anticipation of proposed legislation in Harrisburg that would allow teachers to be furloughed for financial reasons — among a number of issues that the union is questioning whether have been introduced to intentionally derail talks the teachers say had been making progress.

The teachers’ statement suggests that negotiations were largely complete on salary and work rules, with health care the lone stumbling block. The board appears to have a differing view, though.

“It is misleading for the union leadership to say they have ‘agreed to the School Board’s salary proposal’ or ‘agreed to increase the length of their work day’ or ‘agreed to a salary freeze worth approximately $750,000,’ ” said board member Keith Knauss, a member of the district negotiating team. “The union leadership has not agreed to anything yet.  The District and the union are negotiating a comprehensive contract that has 3 basic elements – salary, benefits and work rules.  All three are interwoven and co-dependent.  The contract offer is not an a la carte menu where some elements can be chosen and other rejected.  It’s all or none.  While it might make good press to ‘cherry pick’ the attractive parts of the contract and claim agreement, there is no real agreement until the entire contract is accepted by both sides.”

Although the five-page statement listed, in great detail, where the teachers and school board differ, the proposed changes in seniority appear to have struck a nerve with teachers.

“This issue was presented for the first time after a year of negotiating,” the statement said. “The addition of this proposal suggests that the School Board may not be serious about settling in the near future. Why would the Board demand language concessions that they know could preclude a settlement after 18 months of bargaining? Why would they introduce this item with their July 1st deadline rapidly approaching?”

The UCFEA statement stressed that it would not accept such a change to the seniority provision in the contract — and it notes that the proposed legislation requires seniority to be considered. The statement also said that the union’s stance on seniority is not related to protecting under-performing teachers.

“Please note that this particular seniority issue is not about protecting ineffective employees,” the statement said. “The UCFEA is proud of the work that its members do in the classroom. The UCFEA has, and will continue to, work with administration to address employee performance issues when necessary.”

In addition to the seniority issue, teachers took exception to a number of other issues in the recent board proposal, including reintroducing half-steps for seniority, elimination of the severance bonus, and longer work hours. The teachers argue that pension contributions — expected to spike in coming years — should not be laid at the feet of teachers, who paid their 7.5% annually into fund, while the district and the state paid far lower rates until recently. And as the district gets half of the contributions back from the state, the union objected to the district counting the entire figure as compensation (and issue raised last year by the union).

The district plans a formal response in the coming days, while the entire UCFEA document can be read here.

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