PALMERTON, Pa. – About 132 teachers, nurses and other school employees in a Pennsylvania school district went on strike Monday to push for a 16 percent pay increase over four years.
Classes were canceled in the Palmerton Area School District Monday so teachers and other members of the local union can protest for higher pay and heath care concessions after union officials rejected the district’s most recent contract offer, The Morning Call reports.
Officials with the Palmerton Area Education Association filed a notice to strike 100 days ago amid contentious contract negotiations over an employment contract that expired in June. Union officials are demanding a four-year deal with a 16 percent pay increase – annual raises of 3, 4, 4, and 5 percent – as well as health benefit concessions that taxpayers can’t afford, according to the district website.
The district is offering to raise the starting salary and a 3.25 percent pay increase each of the four years, as well as a stipend for educators who obtain a master’s degree.
“The Palmerton Area School District and the Palmerton Area Education Association (PSEA Teacher’s Union) met Friday evening in an attempt to resolve the bargaining impasse for a new collective bargaining agreement in the hopes of avoiding a strike. At the meeting the mediator suggested a new approach to developing a salary matrix. The District agreed with the idea and offered the proposal, but the Association walked away from the table and left the building without notifying the District,” a PASD statement read.
“Instead the Association sent notice through the mediator that not only did it reject the District’s offer, but also that it refused to make any new offers before the strike. Thus the District was provided an ultimatum by the Association: accept our demands, which have not changed since the outset of negotiation, or we are going to strike.”
District officials obviously opted for the latter. District officials told WBRE the strike could last up to 10 days, which means students could be out of school until Jan. 19.
“Based on the Association’s action and response Friday evening, the District team believes that it could have done nothing but completely concede to the Association’s demands to avoid the impending strike,” according to the district’s statement.
“As this team has commented, it will do everything in its power to avoid a strike short of agreeing to terms that neither the District nor the taxpayers could afford. The District’s bargaining team feels that it has fulfilled its pledge to the community, and that the fate of the Palmerton student education this year is now solely in the hands of the teachers’ union.”
Danielle Paules, a parent of two students, told WNEP on Friday she was “hoping (a strike) doesn’t happen.
“The kids need to be in school so they don’t go during the summer,” she said.
State law requires schools to provide at least 180 days of instruction for students, which means PASD officials will be forced to tack on an extra day to the school year for each day teachers refuse to do their jobs.
Palmerton resident Nancy Beck told WNEP many folks in the community can’t afford a tax increase to fund the union’s demands.
“I’d like to see them come to an agreement but I don’t want them to … raise our taxes also and it’s not just me,” she said. “A lot of other people live day to day and that would be very hard on them.”
PAEA president Tom Smelas, a teacher at Palmerton Area High School, told the Morning Call the strike is a first for the union.
“I’m disappointed that it came to this point,” Smelas said. “It’s not something we wanted to do.”
It’s unclear whether PAEA members plan to picket district offices in Palmerton on Monday. Temperatures there are expected to hover just over 20 degrees on Monday with warmer temps and precipitation later in the week, according to the Weather.com forecast.