By Ashleigh Costello
Westerville, OH – Westerville City Schools are preparing for a potential teachers strike as negotiations over a new labor contract grow more heated.
Last Friday, the school board agreed to pay Huffmaster Crisis Response, a Michigan based company that provides personnel to employers facing strikes, $61,000 to prepare about 200 teachers, 60 security workers and eight other workers as a precaution, reports The Columbus Dispatch.
If the strike goes forward, it could cost the district as much as $185,000 to find adequate replacements.
“We hope that we don’t have to move any further forward,” board President Kevin Hoffman said at a news conference yesterday.
Union leaders said they were “dismayed and stunned” by the board’s decision.
“This is so far out of left field for us, it’s puzzling,” said Trevor Kielmeyer, spokesman for the Westerville Education Association, who insists there have been no serious discussions of a strike.
But in emails obtained by The Columbus Dispatch, the union’s leaders advise members that if labor negotiations don’t improve, “we may even be looking at a strike situation.”
“You may think that this is like the last couple of times we have negotiated,” stated another email. “IT IS NOT! IT IS FAR WORSE!”
As an alternative to a strike, the union could also tell members to only work the bare minimum required by their contract, referred to as “working to the rule,” reports the news site. Such a situation seems likely as union emails have also encouraged teachers not to prepare their classrooms early or volunteer at school events.
However, Kielmeyer noted “that would be a decision that would be made probably not until school begins.”
The board has been in negotiations with the Westerville Education Association since May 23. A federal mediator has been involved in the talks since the start.
The current contract expires August 31.
“It’s just good management practice to prepare for risks,” Hoffman said. “We remain optimistic that we will be able to negotiate a successor contract with our teachers.
“We’ve been at the bargaining table all along and intend to continue bargaining in good faith. Without any assurance from the WEA that it will not strike, we had to prepare by taking this precautionary measure.”
Classes are scheduled to resume on August 15.