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Jim Thorpe District, union differ on wages, insurance, leave

Published June 04. 2014 07:12PM

For 16 months, the Jim Thorpe Area School District board and teachers union have been negotiating a new contract, but are struggling to resolve their differences on wages, health benefits, a prescription plan, credit and textbook reimbursement, sick leave, retirement incentives and benefits, and demotions.

At a stalemate, the school district sought help through the state Labor Relations Board. The result was a fact-finders report done by Alex A. Kaschock.

Both sides on April 10 filed statements for the report and met with the fact-finder on May 2. A hearing was held on May 13.

But the report hasn't helped. The union accepted its recommendations, but the school board rejected it.

"The report shows how reasonable we are being with the negotiations," said Jim Thorpe Area Education Association President Dave Marino. "We received a note on Friday that the board unanimously rejected the report."

School board President Dennis McGinley, whose telephone number is unlisted, could not be reached for comment.

Paul K. Blunt, the school board's special counsel for labor negotiations, said "the district cannot afford the fact-finder's recommendations, and the fact-finding was not conducted properly."

He said the fact-finder talked with one side without the other present.

Blunt said he has filed a complaint with the Labor Relations Board.

"We are going to have to go back to the bargaining table," he said.

According to the 16-page report:

The last contract ran from July 1, 2008, through June 30, 2013. Negotiations on a new contract began in January 2013. Teachers continue to work under the terms of the previous pact.

The union wants a four-year pact, with "step movements" salary increases for years of service and with a 1 percent raise over each of the last three years. The combination will offset the financial effect of proposed increases to teachers for health-care costs.

The district proposes eliminating the traditional health-care plan and instead offer two PPO plans, which include deductibles. The union has agreed to start paying health-care deductibles.

This time, the district wants a three-year contract, with no step movements and a salary freeze for all three years.

According to the report, the district states its teachers are the highest-paid in Carbon County, with an average salary of $59,429.

Further, the district's retirement fund and health-care costs are increasing. It would be forced to increase the property tax rate if it granted raises.

The fact-finder's report recommends a four-year contract, with a salary freeze in the first year, then 1 percent raises in the last three years, along with increments.

On the issue of sick leave, the union wants to keep the current 12 days of sick leave per year, with a doctor's excuse for an absence of more than three days.

The district wants a doctor's note for an absence of three days or more, and after a teacher uses six days of sick leave.

The-fact finder concurred with the union.

The report can be accessed by visiting the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board website, scrolling down and clicking on "Fact Finders reports" on the left side.

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