Union seeks state Fact Finding for potential new pact
UPDATED: 8:30 p.m. Adds comment, detail from teachers’ negotiator.
By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
The Coatesville Area School District announced Wednesday it declared a contract talks impasse with the district’s teachers as the district’s teachers’ union is seeking fact finding through the state’s Labor Relations Board in order to facilitate a new agreement.
The district’s teachers — represented by the Coatesville Area Teachers Association (CATA) — have been without a contract for 13 months and the talks have become increasingly acrimonious in recent weeks.
In the fact finding process, a neutral arbitrator — in this case, Ralph H. Colflesh — rules on the merits of presentations by both sides and typically offers a proposed agreement within 40 days of the presentations. Both sides must accept the agreement within 10 days for it to become binding — rejection by either side means that the proposal is made public. Following that, after five days, but before 10, each side must again decide whether to accept the proposal. If either or both side rejects it, the process returns to collective bargaining.
The primary stumbling blocks in the talks have been salary and benefits. The district argues it needs concessions on health care benefits, while CATA argues it has gone without pay raises in recent years because of the district’s financial troubles and it is overdue for better pay, which it argues is among the lowest in the county. There are other issues, including disputes over work rules, as well.
“The union insisted on keeping its gold-plated health care plan and seeking excessive wage increases instead of looking at options which drive health care costs down and dollars saved toward salaries,” the district’s chief negotiator Michael Levin said in a statement.
CATA President Audra Ritter when reached for comment, deferred to the teachers’ negotiator — Jeff Guy, who said the primary issue is that the changes in the health care plan would mean a net pay cut, when the costs of district’s proposed health plan is taken into account. He noted that Coatesville’s teachers have the lowest pay among Chester County public school districts and have a long history of working with the district to keep costs down.
“We were willing to look at options with the health plan,” said Guy, a district teacher who leads CATA’s negotiation team. “But they (the board) said ‘no, this is our plan.’ We’re talking $1,200, to $3,000 and even $4,000 out of pocket additionally for our members. It ends up being a net loss. Teachers could be taking home less in in take home pay.”
Guy also said he took issue with the district characterizing the talks as being at an impasse. He said while the talks have been contentious — among the most in recent years — he said that ideas and offers were still being exchanged. He said the teachers wanted to get an outside take on the talks and the proposals, hence the decision to go to fact finding.
District officials argue there isn’t enough money to pay teachers higher wages and still be able to cover the needs of the district.
“We have so many priorities to address that are essential to the wellbeing of our students – facilities that need to be brought up to standard, technology upgrades which were long overdue, security system replacements,” said Board of Education President Dean Snyder in a statement. “We also recognize and respect the value that our teachers bring to their classrooms daily. These spending priorities are essential, but unreasonable economic demands are not. I hope the fact-finder’s recommendation presents a solution that recognizes our economic challenges, those of our taxpayers, and the needs of our students.”
Members of CATA, as well as parents who support them, plan to attend next Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting and present the board with a petition supporting the teachers.