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More Pittsburgh school support workers may strike

| Monday, Aug. 25, 2008

Hundreds of custodians, food-service workers, truck drivers and others in the city's school district have joined clerical workers in threatening to go on strike.

Members of two locals of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have been working under terms of contracts that expired in December 2006. Negotiations were scheduled to resume Monday. The first day of school for students is Aug. 28.

AFSCME Local 297, which represents custodians, food-service workers, repairmen, truck drivers and other workers, voted Saturday to authorize a strike. Clerical workers in AFSCME Local 2924 had previously voted to authorize a strike.

The votes by the members authorize union leaders to call a strike at any time; the union must give 48 hours' notice to the schools before a walkout begins.

The district, the second largest in the state, has about 28,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Richard Caponi, director of AFSCME District Council 84, said he still hopes to get the dispute resolved without a strike.

"We started bargaining in July of 2006. This is August of 2008," Caponi said. "I think that shows a willingness on our part to negotiate a contract without taking some type of job action."

School board member Theresa Colaizzi, who leads the district negotiating committee, said she was disappointed by the strike votes but focused on making progress in negotiations.

Caponi said it would be difficult to operate the schools without the work of his members; Colaizzi said the district has a contingency plan.

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