Redbank Teachers’ Union Representative: ‘The ball is in the district’s court now.”
(Photos by Dave Cyphert of ProPoint Media Photography)
Patrick Andrekovich, a representative for the Redbank Valley Education Association (the Redbank teacher’s union) told exploreClarion.com “the ball is in the district’s court now.”
“We tried to schedule a meeting last night, but the district was unwilling to bring a proposal,” Andrekovich explained. “We said we’d meet. We’re available today, we’re available tomorrow. We’re available at any point to meet.”
According to Andrekovich, the failure of the district to meet with the union with a proposal for their contract precipitated the strike.
“All we’re asking for is for them to come back with a proposal. We don’t feel that’s an unreasonable thing to request. To negotiate is something we feel is a realistic expectation,” he added.
The 77 teachers in the RVEA have been without a contract since June of 2019.
The union’s most recent proposal would save the school district $1.2 million over the life of the contract. The district is asking for an additional $140,000.00 in healthcare savings, Andrekovich told exploreClarion.com.
“Currently, we have no co-pays, so we have agreed to implement some co-pays,” Andrekovich explained, detailing the list of compromises the union has already made.
“We have agreed to a cut in the health savings account contributions. We lowered our wage proposal. We agreed to a two-year freeze.”
The frustration was palpable.
“We’ve done a lot of concessions,” Andrekovich said. “All we’re asking the district to meet us at least part of the way. They aren’t even willing to do that.”
The RVEA argues the school district has enough money to prevent any additional costs, considering over $3.5 million of COVID-19 stimulus money the district received, as well as their fund balance and savings in this year’s budget.
“I’m not sure how, even by their numbers, with less than $1 million in new money, how are we going to bankrupt the district?” asked Andrekovich. “It’s a great talking point, but the math doesn’t add up.”
Andrekovich said the root of the problem lies in the current health insurance the district provides.
“Our health insurance is very expensive. To just shift the costs to the employees doesn’t solve the problem. We’re going to be back in the same situation,” he argued.
To solve this, the RVEA is proposing to change the district’s health insurance to a local insurance consortium, which they say will lower the rising cost of health insurance.
“They haven’t even engaged,” Andrekovich said. “The only thing we’ve heard from Dr. Shaffer is, ‘Absolutely not, we’re not going to put it in writing we’re going to change the health insurance.’ because he would prefer to shift the cost to the employees. We’re not willing to do that.”
As of now, however, the union will have to wait to hear back. Andrekovich said the school district will present their counterproposal next week, on September 22.
The strike can last until October, which though he does not want to happen, Andrekovich said was a possibility.
The RVEA is currently waiting to hear back from the state as to how long they could strike.
“At any point between today and the date we get from the state, we could return to the classroom,” said Andrekovich. “At that point, we would go to nonbinding arbitration. If either side voted down the nonbinding arbitration, potentially we could go back out on strike in the spring.”
Schools have to complete 180 days of school by June 15. A spring strike would push this deadline to June 30.
Andrekovich also addressed the concern their actions are detrimental to the students at Redbank by saying the decision to strike was not taken lightly.
“The part that gets lost on the board and community members is that these are parents of Redbank Valley students that are out here,” he said. “It’s a really tough decision with everything that’s taken place over the last year. A lot of these folks are directly impacted. It’s these folks, their kids go here.”
School District Response
Representatives from the Redbank Valley School District negotiating team could not be reached prior to publication. However, this article will be updated with their comments once they are reached.
In the most recent post from the school district’s Facebook page, dated to September 12, the district states prior to the strike it “was agreeable to meeting and discussing salary frameworks that could meet our proposal but advised all parties that we would not have a formal proposal prepared in that time frame.”
The post then goes on to say the union declined to meet because the district did not have a formal proposal, which they will be presenting “at a meeting during the week of September 20, 2021, as we indicated we would do two meetings ago.”
“The District has clearly stated to the Education Association that we would not have a formal offer ready until after September 17,” the post says. “We have consistently indicated that we would be ready for the week of September 20. There was never a promise to do so earlier than that.”
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