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Gateway teachers union requests fact-finding process with Labor Relations Board

Dillon Carr
| Friday, July 13, 2018, 4:27 p.m.

The Gateway School District teachers union filed a request with the state Labor Relations Board July 9 to create a fact-finding panel in hopes of speeding up gridlocked contract negotiations.

“It’s a tool and part of collective bargaining,” Gateway teacher and union president Mark Spinola said. “We just hope to move the process along.”

The Labor Relations Board will vote during a July 17 meeting in Harrisburg on whether it will create the panel.

The move comes after the teachers voted to authorize a strike in March if contract talks continue to sputter.

Mary Beth Cirucci, school board vice president and negotiations committee chair, invites the process.

“I think it’ll be beneficial to our side, personally,” Cirucci said. “I’m actually surprised that they called for fact-finding. I think it’ll be good for the school and further prove that we’ve given them a good financial offer.”

The union has been working without a contract since its pact expired last August. Negotiations began in January 2017, and the union has complained the school board has canceled meetings and suggested it is not willing to negotiate.

Teachers who belong to the union have attended school board meetings donning black T-shirts emblazoned with “Excellence is Intentional” since May, which Spinola said he hopes lets the board know the union is willing to negotiate.

Cirucci rejects the implication the board is not willing to negotiate and denied canceling a July 6 meeting. She said the union suggested meeting dates during the week of the Fourth of July, and the groups tentatively landed on July 6 or 9.

“But then when we cannot comply, they call that canceling. Nothing was confirmed, nothing was scheduled,” Cirucci said.

Spinola, who is not on the negotiating team, maintains the July 6 meeting was scheduled then canceled after a June 27 board meeting he and fellow teachers attended.

The issue is money.

In a written statement read before a June meeting, Cirucci said the union originally asked for a five-year contract with 4 percent raises in salaries and step movements each year.

“Where are we today? The district has offered a three-year contract with a full step movement each year and a 1 percent salary increase for year three only,” Cirucci said at the meeting. “The teachers want the 1.5 percent increase in year two and 1 percent in year three.”

Spinola said he does not dispute where the negotiations stand currently and declined to talk specifics. However, he said the union has been more willing to negotiate.

“We’ve moved quite a bit from the original offer, and the district has not,” he said.

Cirucci said a step movement next year will cost the district $404,000 and a 1 percent raise for each teacher in the union would cost about $229,000. She said that money would need to come from the district’s fund balance or a tax increase – both of which she opposes.

Under the expired contract, teachers on the top step of the pay scale earned $100,757 in the 2016-17 school year, according to district records. The average Gateway teacher salary is about $78,300 — 19 percent higher than the state’s average last year, according to state Department of Education records.

Dillon Carr is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Dillon at 412-871-2325, dcarr@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dillonswriting.

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