West Shore teachers union protest lack of contract

LOWER ALLEN TWP., Pa. - Teachers union at the West Shore School District Thursday protested their lack of a collective bargaining agreement.

The West Shore Education Association has been without a contract for 739 days and counting, and after teachers made it clear that the district's contract offer was not good enough, district staffers made their offer public.

Included in the deal is a pay hike to most employees.

"This shows not just the commitment to recruitment, but there's another piece of this puzzle, which is the retention," Brett Sanders, of the West Shore School District, said during the district's presentation. "It doesn't do us any good to recruit new employees, new teachers with a high salary and not be able to retain them because our rates stop being competitive."

The West Shore Education Association accused the district of hijacking negotiations by making its offer public a week before the union is set to vote on the deal.

"There was a little bit of surprise that the district was willing to waste everybody's time tonight," Kevin Downs, an 8th grade science teacher and president of the West Shore Education Association, said. "They initially stated that they weren't going to bargain in public, but the information they presented made it very clear they were bargaining in public."

There may be some common ground between the parties, but changes to the health plan like shifting away from a PPO toward a health-savings account plan and the district's refusal to agree to cover a potential Cadillac tax on the health plan continue to cause an impasse.

"Their offer that they presented to us has some things that we believe we can agree to," Downs said. "With the way that they've been treating the negotiations stonewalling us giving us false information cancelling meetings on us, we don't know if we can trust them to come in and be fair to bargain and renegotiate the healthcare plan."

School district officials refused FOX43's requests to be interviewed after the meeting, but addressed the teachers in attendance directly.

"I truly believe in the bottom of my heart the offer that was presented to your executive board gives you a very fair contract," board president Ronald Candioto said.

The union will present the offer to its 550-plus members next week, with a vote on it tentatively set for next Friday.

It's too early to speculate on whether a strike could be called, Downs said. If the vote fails, there is another negotiation session set for the end of this month.