Wage freeze stalls Wyoming Area talks

June 27th, 2015 1:53 am

First Posted: 8/21/2013

A one-year wage freeze.

That’s the primary sticking point in contract negations between the Wyoming Area School District and its teachers’ union.

The freeze was proposed by the district and the union has balked.

If the two sides can’t come to an agreement, the teachers will strike on Sept. 3. New talks are tentatively being scheduled for Monday Aug. 26 and/or Wednesday, Aug. 28.

Both sides made their cases to the public at the joint work session/regular monthly meeting Tuesday night at the Wyoming Secondary Center in Exeter.

The sides last met on Aug. 13. Talks broke down when district officials walked out of the session because the union wouldn’t agree to a one-year wage freeze.

The district — represented by labor lawyer John Dean, district Solicitor Jarrett Ferentino and Business Manager Tom Melone — presented a 13-page summary of the most recent proposals presented on Aug. 13.

The teachers, represented by union president Melissa Dolman, and John Holland, the regional director of the Pennsylvania State Education Association and chief negotiator for the district, said the district’s presentation wasn’t a fair gauge, because several of its previous plans had additional savings.

“You’re misleading the public by only showing the Aug. 13 proposals,” Dolman said. “It says we have not made concessions in health care and we have.”

The district says health care and salary are linked because savings in one can be used in the other.

“A complete package was never accepted,” Dean said. “What we save in wages we can pay in health care. What we save in health care, we can pay in wages. We can’t pick and choose. Everything is tied together.”

The Aug. 13 proposals have the union seeking a seven-year deal and the district seeking a six-year one.

The union proposed raises according seniority steps ranging from 1.83 percent to 3.02 percent in each of the seven years. The district offered raises from 2.28 percent to 2.86 percent for five years, except for the 2011-2012 school year, in which a wage freeze was proposed.

Despite the wage freeze that year, each employee would be given a $750 stipend, according to the district.

The union also seeks $500 for top step employees for 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.

In theory, teachers will be paying for the freeze until they retire, Dolman said, because their salaries for the rest of the years will be lower.

“The effect of the freeze will affect teachers for years,” she said. “A person may work in the district for 35 years. You want them to take a true freeze and pay for it the next 35 years?”

According to district calculations, the union wage plan costs $1.86 million or an increase of 20.42 percent, and the district’s plan costs $1.01 million or an increase of 11.51 percent.

Neither the district nor the union’s most recent health care proposal contains a premium share, and both sides agreed to a PPO through the Northeast Pennsylvania School District Health Trust. They currently have a more expensive traditional Blue Cross plan.

The deductible and the health insurance opt-out cost are the sticking points.

The union proposed $100/$300 deductibles for individual/family plans and the district proposed $250/$500. The district wants a $5,000 payment cap if an employee opts out of the plan, but the union wants to continue receiving 50 percent of the cost of the plan, which amounts to about $12,500 for a family plan.

The union proposal saves $70,000 and the district proposal saves $260,000, according to the district.

The union warned of the costs to the district associated with a strike. Members of the support staff will need to be brought in on the make-up days at the end of the year. Those employees are guaranteed to work a specific number of days in their contract and will likely require overtime.

Union members have worked under the terms of an expired contract for over three years.

Under state law, teachers may strike twice in one school year.

The first strike must end in time for students to get 180 school days in by June 15 or by the last day of the scheduled school year. If the first strike threatens that deadline, both sides must go into mandatory, non-binding arbitration. If a second strike is called after arbitration, it must end in time for students to get 180 school days by June 30.

Once again, a contingent of teachers staged an informational picket outside the meeting.

The Wyoming Area Education Association represents 160 teachers, librarians and guidance councilors.

Holland said it all boils down to wages.

“We have agreements on many items, but it seems salary is the sticking point,” Holland said. “They want a wage freeze, and we’re seeking a modest increase.”