Line Mountain teachers threaten strike
MANDATA - Members of the Line Mountain Education Association (LMEA) have authorized the option to strike with 48 hours notice while tension over a contract dispute continues to build.
The teachers met recently, and there was "all but unanimous" support for the strike option, Mark McDade of the Pennsylvania State Education Association said Monday. He wouldn't reveal the actual vote from the district's 99 teachers, and he won't say whether they'll exercise the option.
"It depends on whether the board wants to bargain in good faith," he said. "The board has made no attempt to resolve the issues. They'd rather bargain in public than with the exclusive representatives of the teachers."
The district sees it quite differently and says it welcomes a meeting with the union.
Teachers will rally before the school board meeting Tuesday to draw attention to the stalled contract negotiations.
Teachers have been working on an expired contract since June 2012. That one-year pact was an extension of a five-year contract that ended June 30, 2011, and guaranteed teachers a 3-percent raise each year.
State law allows teachers to strike twice in one school year. The first strike must end when 180 days of school cannot be completed by June 15.
As of now, if the teachers strike, "we're not getting the seniors out on time; they will be impacted," school board President Troy Laudenslager said Monday.
With snow days accounted for, seniors are scheduled to graduate June 6. The last day for other students is June 9.
Laudenslager's interpretation of the law is that teachers would legally have five days to strike. McDade said the Pennsylvania Department of Education would dictate when teachers would have to return to work.
After the first strike, the union and the district would enter into non-binding arbitration before a second strike can take place, according to state law.
That would not allow enough time this school year for a second strike, Laudenslager said.
During non-binding arbitration, a third-party arbitrator would gather information from both sides and issue an opinion, but neither party would have to follow it.
"Again, our goal is to get a contract," McDade said. "If the board refuses to bargain in good faith, we'll have to potentially look at striking."
The board was issued a letter informing them of the decision Monday, Feb. 24, and board members discussed it at their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 25, Laudenslager said.
Ben Pratt, the district's negotiation attorney, met with McDade last week following the meeting, Laudenslager said.
"Our council seemed to think it was optimistic, and things seem to be moving forward," he said.
Asked about the meeting, McDade said he had no comment.
No action was taken on the contract or letter at the public meeting.
It's been nearly five months since the two negotiating teams had a successful meeting. A Jan. 23 negotiation session was cut short after about an hour when Laudenslager said the teachers' team walked out without ever coming face-to-face with the board's team.
No new dates are set at this time.
"They (the teachers) are in the driver's seat again," Laudenslager said. "The district is willing to meet any time, any place. We will meet so they can respond to our last proposal."
For his part, McDade said the district still owes the teachers a proposal and a set of dates to meet.
Teachers will begin rallying at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, March 11, at the middle/high school before the 6:30 p.m. public school board meeting.